The Essential Jonathan Edwards by Owen Strachan and Douglas A. Sweeney

The Essential Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to the Life and Teaching of America's Greatest Theologian

As an incurable reader, I often find myself stumped over what kind of book I need to read next.  My tastes range from theology to literature to history to politics to poetry to philosophy to biography and more.  I could almost paraphrase Will Rogers and say, “I never met a book I didn’t like.”  I have met a few that were not to my liking, but I am prone to find something of use in even the worst of readings.

My morning reading time is when I focus on Biblical and theological books.  If a book is devotional, without being fluffy, and enlightening, it makes for a good start for the morning stack of books.  I have about an hour to read and usually read a chapter or about 10 pages from each of 3 or 4 books.  (This method works well for me.)  After the book aimed at the heart, I am more ready for the book aimed at the mind.  So, a book applying Bible teachings might be read from first and then followed by a bit more weighty theological reading.  The preferred third book is usually more focused on Christian worldview thinking.  It might be on history, education, current issues, philosophy, or some other area.  It might or might not be a specifically Christian book.

This brings us to the topic of The Essential Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to the Life and Teaching of America’s Greatest Theologian by Owen Strachan and Douglas A. Sweeney.  This book is published by Moody Publishers.

In light of the different types of books I like to read in the morning session, The Essential Jonathan Edwards can fit into any of the categories.  The breadth of the approach of the book itself is similar to the breadth of the subject.  Jonathan Edwards is acclaimed as one of the great preachers of all time.  He is also one of the great theologians.  He was also a prolific writer.  He is recognized for his contributions to the field of philosophy.  He is studied for his views on any number of topics, both those pertinent to his times and to ours.

As the subject of biography, Edwards’ life is also rich.  He lived in colonial America during a period that was just past the heyday of Puritan thought and just before the period leading up to the American Revolution and War for Independence.  I will assume for the moment that the term “American Revolution” refers to the change in thinking and outlook that developed prior to any shots being fired at Lexington and Concord, and I am borrowing this definition from John Adams.  Back to Edwards:  He was a major figure in the Great Awakening.  Along his labors were limited geographically to a small part of New England, his role through his preaching and writing explained, furthered, and cautioned against aspects of the revival.  He was the spokesman for this side of the Atlantic.

His marriage and family are models for both understanding American culture and for spiritual edification.  His tumultuous relationship with his Northhampton congregation is insightful into the workings of colonial communities and all too familiar territory for many pastors and their churches.  Edwards was briefly connected to the still new Princeton University and had been educated at Yale.  His life shows the richness of potential opportunities in the colonial period even accounting for the particular genius and gifts of the man.

The most scholarly and library-bound academic wanting to grapple with theological conundrums (like free will and Original Sin) can study Edwards alongside the more profound student of philosophy, especially the one interested in American contributions.  But the pastor can also find Edwards a helpful mentor giving encouragement to his soul as he prepares sermons and lessons for his congregation.  Again, the study of Edwards is a hall filled with treasures.

So where do you begin?  Or how can you access the wealth of Edwards’ life, faith, and thought?

The Essential Jonathan Edwards is an excellent place to begin.  The book contains an account of Edwards’ life, but it is only partially a biography.  Much of the focus is on the teachings of Edwards.  The book is heavy laden with quotes and lengthy ones at that.  It doesn’t take many lines of reading Edwards to realize that this guy cannot be skim read.  He is not impossible or overly technical, but his language is rich and detailed.  While the entire book reveals biographical details, the first section is more largely focused on his life.

The authors cover a number of larger and then more particular topics in subsequent chapters.  The second section of the book is on the topic of Beauty.  As has been noted, some of the higher, more liturgical churches focus on beauty in their church buildings and liturgies.  The Protestants who are more in the tradition of Edwards in terms of evangelical emphases have overlooked the topic of Beauty.  (As a former pastor, I am asking myself, “When did you preach on the Beauty of God, of Christ, of the Church?”)

The third section focuses on the Good Life.  This is yet another case of the authors bringing an unused phrase into Christian thinking.  Living the Christian life is the good life.  Man’s chief end is enjoying God forever, which does not mean that we start when we get to heaven.  Edwards wrote, “God in seeking his glory, therein seeks the good of his creatures: because the emanation of his glory (which he seeks and delights in, as he delights in himself and his own eternal glory) implies the communicated excellency and happiness of his creatures.” (Found on page 199)

The fourth section deals with a troublesome issue in Edwards’ ministry and in our times.  Statistics show certain numbers of people who are Christian by profession.  Church rolls show smaller groups of the same.  Yet nominalism, that is, being Christian in name only, is a huge problem.  Protestants like to think it is merely a Roman Catholic problem.  Within Protestant groups, one group will wag their heads at another for this plague, but the truth is that it hits ever section of Christianity and every church.  If you don’t know of where to locate the dangers of nominal Christianity, begin by looking in a mirror.  I am not saying that you and I are believers in name only.  But I do know it is a real threat to me.  Those of us in Christian works (and I teach in a Christian school) can easily confuse occupation with salvation.  The problem beset Edwards both in the times of his grandfather’s Half-Way Covenant approach and in his own dealings with a congregation that fired him.

The final section deals with heaven and hell.  Edwards is once again a needed instructor to our times.  Because Christianity offers so much in this world, we can easily undervalue what it teaches about the world to come.  And the doctrine of Hell is just uncomfortable.

I recently posted a blog review highlighting a number of books on, by, or about Edwards.  For the reader wanting to meet the great theologian, this is the book to start with.  For the reader who has already read a lot by and about Edwards, this book is also a great read.

America in World War I–Two Great Reads

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I was recently attacked, beaten near senseless, and left bruised, bleeding, and humiliated.  I can identify the perpetrators.  One is Edward Lengel and the other is Geoffrey Wawro.  Both are historians.  Both have books on World War I that were published in the past year.  And I read both books and the results are described in my opening sentence.

When I think back on my stronger areas of history, I like to list such areas as American history, 20th Century history, and the World Wars.  There are a few other areas where I feel competent and many where I am better served by keeping my mouth shut.  But World War I?

Since the first of October I have been teaching on World War I in my Humanities classes.  I have taught from Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August, which sunk my students, and I tried to bail them out, but was not overly successful.  We also read All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.  We finished with World War One British Poets, a fine and short anthology of some of the vivid and powerful poems from the time.

I walked the students through the rival alliances, the strengths of the major powers, and the tensions that were threatening Europe.  I showed them the Schlieffen Plan as thought out and then poorly executed by the Germans.  I walked them through the succession of events from the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to the invasion of Belgium.  I went over a short list of why the United States entered the War.  I coached them through my “What Every Man or Woman Needs to Know About World War I” review sheets.

I felt pretty good about old Ben House as a history teacher.  Then along came Edward Lengel.  Many of his earlier books are on George Washington, but he has also written several on World War I.  His most recent book, even more recently reviewed in this blog, is Never in Finer Company.

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Never in Finer Company: The Men of the Lost Battalion and the Transformation of America by Edward G. Lengel is published by De Capo Press.

This book deals with an event within the greater actions of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.  A battalion pushing against the German lines advanced beyond their flank supports and got cut off from the rest of the army.  The logical thing to do would have been to have retreated back to the security of the rest of the army.  But the orders and commands had been to advance and not retreat.

Another alternative would have been to surrendered.   The men under siege endured more than enough hardships.  Not only were they surrounded and under constant attack, but they were low on food and water and the wounded were not being attended.  They had fought the good fight and were in a hopeless situation.

Yet, they fought on.  How they held out is beyond me.  On one occasion, they even got shelled by American artillery.  The story is one of exceptional gallantry and worthy leaders on the battalion level.  Even the carrier pigeons in the unit served with distinction.

One side story on this story was the actions of Tennessee rifleman Alvin York.  York was not part of the Lost Battalion, but was part of the advancing columns that helped liberate the battalion and continued the advance against the Germans.

Great book.  Left me dazed with awe for the men of the unit, saddened at the effects of this on even the survivors, and the sacrifices men at war make.

Feeling the need to read even more on World War I and America’s role, I picked up the book Sons of Freedom by Geoffrey Wawro.

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Sons of Freedom by Geoffrey Wawro is published by Basic Books.  Dr. Wawro is a professor of history at the University of North Texas and the author of six books (four of which I now own).

As the subtitle explains, this book is about “The Forgotten American Soldiers Who Defeated Germany in World War I.”  I noticed a review that called this book “the definitive history” regarding America’s role in the war.  I agree.

This book is a lengthy and powerful account of how America’s entry on the actual battlefields enabled the Allies to win the war.  By 1918, both sides in the war were exhausted, bled white, and worn down by the grueling multiple fronts.  Russia was finished by then.  Revolution ended what the war itself had started on the Eastern Front.  Italy was basically caput as well. How Austria-Hungary was hanging on is still beyond me.  But there was Germany, now reinforcing the Western Front (the border areas in northern France and Belgium where the war had been raging since August of 1914).  Freed from the Eastern Front, Germany was racing more and more divisions to the west.

Under the command of the talented, but sometimes unbalanced, Erich von Ludendorff, the German army began a series of offenses against the British and French lines.  Any one of the offensive actions could easily have translated into the needed breakthrough that would have divided the Allied forces, pushed the British back into a Dunkirk situation (years before Dunkirk), or captured Paris.

The spent forces of the British and French armies sustained the front lines, but barely.  The German forces erred most greatly in shifting from one offense to the next instead of maintaining pressure in just one area.  But also, and most important, the American forces began hitting the fields of battle.

The United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917.  But it took a year before the United States was able to start massing still under-trained and unequipped soldiers on French soil.  Still, they were fresh troops, and so they began the process of filling in the gaps on the battlefields.  The American commander was General John J. Pershing.  Pershing’s greatest legacy in the war was his continual insistence on American troops being able to operate independently as American armies and not as replacements and gap fillers for the Allies.

In some cases, Americans got some useful baptism of fire by being used alongside of the British and French troops.  But the goal was always an independent field of action by the U. S. Army.  Pershing fought hard against his fellow Allied commanders to achieve this.  On the negative side, he was greatly underequipped as a commander to lead an army in this type of war.  He was somehow stuck in a time warp, not always realizing how the war had been fought for the past several years.

Americans focused on the offensive.  (So had every other major army for the previous years.)  In 1918, America had one resource that no other country had–a huge supply of troops.  The American muscle was just beginning to be flexed as the troops began pouring into France.  Sad to say, much of the story and much of the book is about the tremendous bloodbath Americans were thrown into in taking this war to the Germans.

Germany was a spent force, but far from a finished force by 1918.  They still had plenty of crack troops, plenty of machine gun and artillery emplacements, and an abundance of fighting experience.  Americans were the deciding factor in Germany’s defeat, but this was no cake-walk.

Even though Sons of Freedom is a lengthy and heavily detailed book, I found it engrossing.  Granted, there were flank attacks, repulses, commander changes (many, in fact), and other details that slipped right my mind.  Yet, the larger picture of this book was of the Americans pushing and hitting the German lines and, even with mounting casualties and increasing numbers of deserters, and winning the war.

For anyone else interested in World War I, these are two great reads.  Having read Lengel’s book first, I better understood some of what was happening in Wawro’s book.  But either book could be read first.  You might end these readings being a pacifist (which is what I would be if everyone else would sign on as well), or you might end with a greater appreciation for our soldiers from the past.

Both books call attention to men who were forgotten.  World War II so overshadows the Great War that we tend to see it as amateurish and poorly done by contrast.  Arguments can be made that the two wars were simple one long conflict with a twenty year gap in the fighting.  However the First War is viewed, Americans need to remember that–whether it was the best thing to do or not–our country won that war.

I love both books and highly revere the authors, even after they so brutally beat me up.

Great Love for Pat Conroy

 

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I don’t want to oversell Pat Conroy as a man and as a writer, and this is my third blog of recent months calling attention to him. The interest is the result of the book Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy.  That book is wealth of stories based on many personal experiences both close friends and fellow writers had with Conroy, who died in 2016.  The book is published by the University of Georgia Press.

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Conroy, unlike all too many writers, was incredibly personable, generous, and outgoing.  He loved friends and fans with an unbounding zeal.  He ended his letters, phone calls, and conversations with the words “Great Love.”  I have decided to imitate him in that respect.  It did not appear to be just a phrase, but rather was a heart felt conviction.

The book about Conroy prompted me to buy and read the last book that he did.  Titled A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections of a Writing Life, this book contains blog articles that Conroy wrote along with several talks he gave.  This book is full of the wit and wisdom of the man.  Beware:  There are many aspects of his personality, viewpoints, and life that I don’t agree with or approve of.  I don’t endorse the man wholeheartedly, but I do appreciate him.

This book is a good follow-up to the tribute that his writer friends compiled.  It is a good follow-up for anyone who has read and enjoyed any of Conroy’s books.  Among other things, Conroy discusses the shadowy line between writing fiction and memoirs.  Interested especially because several of his books are memoirs and fiction was his main claim to fame, but his fiction is heavily influenced by his personal experiences.

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Pat Conroy and I had some very different experiences growing up.  I can blame my own dad for me not being a writer of Conroy’s stature.  Here is why:  My dad was a very kind, patient, and non-violent man.  Conroy wrote often of the man who became known as The Great Santini.  That happens to be the title of one of his best known books, which was made into a movie.  The elder Conroy was a Marine pilot who waged war on America’s enemies and was not just strict, but brutal to his wife and children.  He was, in short, a monster, but appears to have mellowed as the years went by.  Pat loved his father, even as he detailed the cruelties inflicted on him and his siblings and mother.  Those very experiences have endeared Conroy to many people (again, unlike myself) who had similar family experiences.

Another good read in the Conroy works is My Life in Books where he describes favorite books, authors, and other influences in his life. Both A Lowcountry Heart and My Life in Books are rather small compact works that are matching in appearance.  From there, one can go on to enjoy many other works he did. I have most of his books and would not mind completing my collection.  I wouldn’t mind even finding a copy of his favorite recipes that he put into a cook book. Quite an amazing man.

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Fiction Readings of Late

 

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First, I will begin with a defense for, a plea on behalf of, an apologetic regarding reading fiction.  On second thought, naw, I won’t.  The convinced are already singing in the choir and the unconvinced are trying hard enough to read all the non-fiction, biographies, histories, and theology they possibly can.  Still, I feel a bit of pity for the person who does not enjoy a good novel–often.

Second, I will describe in great detail the various shades, levels, degrees, and genres of fiction.  By that, I mean the literary classics, the newer works that are literary, the form-novels, escape reading, historical fiction, and so on.  On second thought, naw, I won’t do that either.

So, I will describe a few novels I have read of late and sing a bit of praise on their behalf.

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I first took notice of this book after seeing that an old friend from Monroe, Louisiana, Robert McBroom, was reading the book.  Like me, Robert is a southerner through and through, an Agrarian, and a Calvinist.  So, when I found a like-new copy of this book at a thrift store, I snatched it up and then piled it up with dozens of other books.  Then it occurred to me one day that I should read it.

Kristen Hannah is not a new author by any means, but she is new to me.  This is a great, though very sad–at points, story.  Set in Alaska in the early 1970’s and 80’s, it deals with a family undergoing a series of hardships.  Some of the hardships are environmental (surviving in Alaska), some are historical (PTSD from Vietnam experiences), some are social, some economic, and, even though Hannah may have not intended this, some or all are theological.

The key messages from this book:  The importance of community and of forgiveness. The harsh world of Alaska demanded community, and that can be seen as a metaphor for our lives here.  The people who bond together are an unlikely group, but each has his or her own gifts and strengths that contribute to survival.  Forgiveness is the overwhelming theme of the book.  In our world, forgiveness doesn’t always happen when and to the degree it needs to, and some of those who need forgiveness the most are never brought to the point where they see that need.

I don’t want to imply that fiction is read so that lessons or theological truths can be derived from stories.  But glimpses into life reveals lessons and theological truths.  And stories often convey those messages powerfully.

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Sisters of Shiloh by Kathy and Becky Hepinstall proved to be a very fine novel.  Set in the Civil War, two sisters go into the Confederate Army posing as men.  It actually did happen quite often in that and other wars.  This story is filled with pain, suffering, love, and attempts to make sense of life in a fallen world and in the midst of a brutal war.

Concerning the authors, Kathy Hepinstall is a novelist with several successful works to her credit.  Becky Hepinstall is a college history major whose contribution to this book was the historical details.  Amazing teamwork from these two Texas women.

I don’t purposely seek to read either historical fiction or Civil War novels, but I have ended up reading quite a few through the years.   My favorites are The Unvanquished by William Faulkner and None Shall Look Back by Caroline Gordon.  Of course, such books as Gone With the Wind cannot be ignored, and over the years, I have enjoyed teaching Killer Angels to many classes.

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Somewhere this past year, I was reading an article that recommended two Christian authors–Marilynne Robinson and Amor Towles.  I read and loved Gilead, Home, and Lila by Marilynne Robinson a few years back, and I have bought her essay collections.  I hope she wins a Nobel Prize for Literature soon.  Amor Towles was a totally new name for me.  I am still not certain why he was recommended as a “Christian” author.

This summer while making an mostly unsuccessful hunt in a used bookstore in Denison, Texas, I came across one of Amor Towles’ two novels–Rules of Civility. Diving in, I found the time, the setting, the characters, and the topic of the book uninviting. In other words, Towles is not a southern author.  His book is told from the viewpoint of a woman named Katey Kontent who is living in New York City in the 1930s.  The uninteresting book kept drawing me deeper and deeper into the story.  At some point, I realized that I was in the grip of a very skilled writer and a novelist with lots of promise.

I don’t have Towles’ second novel, A Gentleman from Moscow, but I am sold on his writings.

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C. J. Box is top shelf.  I have now read nearly all of his Joe Pickett novels–out of order.  I have nearly all of his novels in nice hardback editions, and one autographed copy of Winterkill (replacing my trade paper copy). Box writes murder mysteries and good ones.  His central character is Joe Pickett, who is a game warden, husband and father to three girls, and a often stumbling man who persists in finding the ugly truths others cannot see.  He also has an amazing friend named Nate Romanowski, who I want for a personal friend. The stories are set in Wyoming and in modern times, but the books have a powerful western feel.  In fact, Box and Pickett may actually overuse the term “Get western” when speaking about events that are about to involve a shootout or the like.

Is Box writing “literature”?  Probably not, but he writes good stories with a powerful human dimension.  As a character, Joe Pickett is a lot like Sheriff Walt Longmire over in neighboring Montana.  I wish those two guys–Pickett and Longmire–could team up at least once.  (How about that Mr. Box and Mr. Craig Johnston–if you are reading this blog?)

I started the Pickett novels somewhere in the middle and based reading on whichever books I had.  As is often the case with series, the earlier books are harder to find in hardback editions (unless one is willing to shell out some big bucks). Having now read all of the earlier books, I can soon get to his latest in the series–The Disappeared.

Again, love this author’s books, love Joe Pickett and his family.  And Box is a Presbyterian and the Pickett family are believers (although Joe sometimes cusses right smart.)

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Another writer that I have been working on getting to know is Alan Furst.  He is often proclaimed to be one of the best espionage writers.  Part of the attraction is that his books mostly set in the 1930s and then in the World War II era.  This sometimes means an unhappy ending as in the case of The Spies of Warsaw.  Despite the best efforts of French military intelligence officer Jean Francois Mercier, neither Poland nor France will be able to circumvent the history that actually happened during the years leading up to the attacks that began World War II.

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Perhaps this is enough for now.  I am looking forward to some future reads including The Resistance by Douglas Bond. I previously read Bond’s book War in the Wasteland, which is about World War I, and reviewed it on this blog.  I am watching the mailbox for The Resistance to arrive.  I also will be starting The Shortgrass by John J. Dwyer.  Both Bond and Dwyer are Facebook friends and brothers in Christ.  The Resistance and The Short Grass are set in World War II.  I am hoping that Lief Enger’s latest novel Virgil Wander is under the Christmas tree.

Also, I expect to be reading some Russian guys named Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Solzhenitsyn for school.

2-Book bundle-THE RESISTANCE & companion volume WAR IN THE WASTELAND

These two volumes are available from Douglas Bond’s website (www.Bondbooks.net) for $25.

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I have got to get this one read before the sequel comes out.

Jonathan Edwards–Recent Books on His Life and Thought

 

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John Piper has often recounted the story of one of his seminary professors advising him to devote his studies to the Bible and one theologian whose thought he would seek to master.  Piper chose Jonathan Edwards.  Other men of God that I know have done similar things. Baptist pastor Fred Zaspel has devoted lots of study to Presbyterian theologian Benjamin B. Warfield and has written two fine books on Warfield.  George Grant has collected and read almost everything written by and about Scottish preacher, author, and theologian Thomas Chalmers.  Douglas Douma, still a young man, is rapidly advancing toward being the key authority on philosopher and theologian Gordon Clark.  Bradford Littlejohn has already produced a number of volumes on the Anglican theologian Richard Hooker.  And Joel Osteen has extensively studied and spoken about the theological insights of Joel Osteen.

I confess that I have been way too much of a gadfly to have mastered any theologian, philosopher, or historian.  I think I have some sort of advanced ADD because my interest and focus will be intense for short bursts of time, and then I am off in a totally different direction.  But I keep trying.  I also think that the advice Piper received was good.  And the choice Piper made–that of studying Edwards–was good as well.

The current popularity of Edwards is an amazing phenomena in our time.  It is the result of the contributions of at least four unlikely team players and a university and quite a few publishing houses.  The four men involved are Perry Miller, Iain Murray, George Marsden, and John Piper.  Miller was a historian and an unbeliever who went against the history department druthers of his day and decided to study Puritans.  He did not agree with Puritan theology or their worldview, but did find them to be worthy of more serious academic consideration.  He single-handedly revived Puritanism as a field of academic pursuit.

Iain Murray shares my characteristic of being widely focused on lots of key figures in church history.  Some years ago, he wrote a laudatory biography of Jonathan Edwards for Banner of Truth. Murray never wrote for scholars, but for thinking Christians.  He did not sugarcoat his subjects and create pious plastic figures, but his biographies were designed to instruct and model Christian living,  sound doctrine, and better preaching and teaching.  His biography won many over to Edwards or put more life into the pictures we had of this man.

George Marsden’s later biography of Edwards filled in the gap left by Murray by providing a more scholarly, academic study of Edwards’ life.  I don’t know of any two other biographies that better complement each other than Murray’s and Marden’s books on Edwards.  John Piper brought Edwards back into the pulpit and Christian conference.  With a style far from Edwards’ reserve and manner, Piper–with passion and emotion–shared Edwards’ thoughts, words, and ideas.  The fire that burned in Edwards’ life and beliefs might not have appeared so hot and blazing had it not been for Piper.

The university that came to the forefront is Yale which began the vast project of producing modern editions of Edwards’ writings.  Yale’s Works of Jonathan Edwards number twenty-six printed volumes and many more on-line volumes.  We often use blanket statements to describe modern secular universities and modern scholarship.  Truth is that many great Christian books are published by secular university presses.  Whether those behind the books share the lack of Christian beliefs like Miller or whether they are true believers and scholars is beside the point.  The books are there.

As you can see from this PARTIAL SELECTION from my own collection, I have accumulated quite a few books on Edwards.  If I could start over again, I might choose him as Piper did, but would probably still be a gadfly flitting from Edwards to Kuyper to Warfield to Calvin to more recent writers.  But I do intend to learn more of Edwards.  On one side of eternity or the other, I hope to get a greater vision for the grandeur of God and His saving work.

Here follows a few short comments on the review books I have (and am behind in reading) on Edwards:

Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to His Thought is by Oliver D. Crisp and Kyle C. Strobel.  It is published by Wm. B. Eerdmans.

One of the essential things about studying Jonathan Edwards is that the vast pool of Edwards’ thought and Edwardsian studies consists of a deep end and a even much deeper end.  Edwards was a first rate preacher, but also a top notch theologian and philosopher.  This study is not for the beginner, the novice, or the one who heard of Edwards from a Piper sermon and wants to know more.  This book requires strong black coffee, maybe with a shot of espresso.

Both authors have written other books on Edwards and have interacted with fellow scholars.  This book is on the deeper end of the pool.  In my morning readings, I prefer to start with a very accessible book that is ministering to both heart and mind.  After reading and while starting on the second cup of coffee, I can then trudge through this kind of work.

The opening chapter is on the intellectual context of Edwards.  Studies generally try to figure out where he is in the Reformed and Puritan realm and where he is engaging in more of the then-current Enlightenment thought.  Subsequent chapters deal with “God of Beauty and Glory,” “God of Creation,” “The Atonement,” and then two very inviting chapters titled “Becoming Beautiful” and “Becoming Edwardsean.”

Also published by Eerdmans is The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia, edited by Harry S. Stout.

This is not a read from beginning to end work, but is a work that can be dipped into randomly or used for specific research.  The list of contributors is a “Who’s Who” among contemporary Edwards scholars. That in itself is impressive to me.

Just flipping through the book, I come across articles about Calvinism, economic thought, Jerusha Edwards (Jonathan’s daughter), King George’s War, Mahican (Stockbridge) Indians, and more.

This book is a goldmine for the history and literature teacher (like myself) who teaches about Edwards and for the preacher and theology students who studies Edwards.

The Essential Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to the Life and Teaching of America's Greatest Theologian

The Essential Jonathan Edwards: An Introduction to the Life and Teaching of America’s Greatest Theologian by Owen Strachan and Douglas A. Sweeny.

I think that this introduction book is more geared to the student and pastorally inclined reader than the one above.  Edwards is not a lightweight, but he is worth the effort and a book like this will help the reader get a grasp on his theology.

Since I just got this book and have barely had time to read anything but the preface, I will hold further comments until later.  But the preface by the authors and the foreword by Piper have whetted my appetite.

Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards by Owen Strachan is published by Tyndale.

Who would have guess a hundred years ago that a day by day devotional reader consisting of Jonathan Edwards’ words with a brief commentary and Bible verse would be published?  This book is just right for all of us who want and need to be guided by Edwards, even if it is just being spoon fed in small portions.

I have for years complained about daily devotional books.  Granted there are plenty of sappy, light, fluffy, sugary devotional works that have been filling Christians with an appearance of substance.  But with books like this, even I must admit that the reader of a short devotional can take in some good theology.

Owen Strachan, the author, is the co-author of the book above and one of the contributors to the Encyclopedia.  

Be patient with me, gentle blog readers, for it may be well into the new year before I can come by with having completed or having read extensively in these and a few other books on America’s greatest theologian, greatest philosopher, and one of its greatest preachers.

 

Never in Finer Company by Edward G. Lengel

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Never in Finer Company: The Me of the Great War’s Lost Battalion by Edward G. Lengel is published by Da Capo Press.  See HERE for details.

Here is my experience in reading this book:  I have been teaching on World War I for the past month or so in my Humanities class on the Modern Age.  We have been reading from Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize winning book The Guns of August.  Then the class read Erich Marie Remarque’s great novel All Quiet on the Western Front.  I have been lecturing, passing out maps, and showing a few documentaries as well.  To further my own reading, I read Douglas Bond’s novel War in the Wasteland, which I also reviewed on a previous blog.  Also, I read Michael Howard’s book  The First World War: A Very Short Introduction.  More books were and are being stacked on the desk.

In the midst of it, I had dug into Never In Finer Company, trudged along for 140 pages and realized that it wasn’t just a battalion that was lost in the Great War.  I was lost in the book.  I wondered if the book itself was the problem.  But, I started over.

Nope, the book wasn’t the problem.  It was the reader.  I quickly retraced the ground that had been lost while I retreated from page 140 back to the beginning.  The story began coming together much better.  (Too many irons in the fire, or books on the stack, had derailed my earlier effort.)  This book was being read during one of my favorite reading times in the day:  When I go to bed.  Reading doesn’t put me to sleep; instead, it brings a great closure to the day.

Often, I have a biography or book on history to read during this late night jaunt, and I have a page-turner novel.  I read the non-fiction and enjoy it, but get a little more delight out of the plot twists of the novel.  But this book began outshining the fiction reads.  As the Lost Battalion was holding its own against the Germans, while facing hunger, thirst, and imminent death, I was entranced with finding out what was going to happen to them.

If this had been a fictional account of soldiers in wartime, it would have make a first class story and could be an incredible movie.  But it is even better.  It really happened.

World War I is so overshadowed by the Second War.  The machines and weapons of WWI seem so awkward, the films portray men walking like Charlie Chaplin, and the sheer static nature of so much of that war leads to a sense of despair.  In World War II, soldiers where capturing something.  In World War I, they were wasting away in the trenches, or so it seems.

Americans began training for the war some time before we actually entered.  The nation entered the war with little actual understanding of the costs, the tactics, the enemy, and the course of the war.  The United States was woefully short of weapons.  As has often been the case, we did have the old “can-do” spirit and the assurance that the Europeans just didn’t know how to wrap this thing up.

When the American army was finally able to be its own military unit under General John Pershing, the prevailing strategic idea was “advance.”  I suspect that had we entered the war one to two years earlier, we would have had our own “Battle of the Somme” or Verdun (referring to British and French battles with incredibly high casualty rates).  When we did take to the field, the German army was largely already beaten or worn down, but it was more like a trapped and wounded grizzly bear than like a dead chicken.

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Advance was ordered by the Americans, and advance they did.  The “Lost Battalion” consisted of about 600 men who were part of the 77th or Metropolitan Division.  The battle was known as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  It was a great victory–in the long run–for the Americans, but it was no cake-walk.  The Lost Battalion was surrounded by the Germans and completely cut off from supplies, reinforcements, a line of retreat (which was unthinkable anyway), and even communication.

The heroes included a couple of officers named Charles Whittlesey and George McMurtry.  Neither man was a soldier by profession. Both were conscientious, self-less, and unhumanly brave.  Of course, the soldiers on the ground were heroes as well.  Many were threatened with death–either directly or by infection–from lightly or untreated wounds.  All were hungry, thirsty, and without any comforts.

In the best of military traditions, city boy and country boy, Christian, Jew, and non-believer, educated and uneducated men melded together and fought for all they were worth.  I must confess to being thrilled when Lengel described one of the later attacks by the Germans.  The Americans, in danger now of running out of ammunition, were hurling curses across the field to their enemies.  They didn’t yield an inch.

Rescue finally came to what was becoming a center of media attention–the Lost Battalion.  Several soldiers were sent through the lines to contact the main American forces and guide them to the soldiers under siege.  One hero of the story was a pigeon, named Cher Ami, who was badly injured in her flight carrying a message from the battle back to headquarters.

As if this story itself were not enough, there is another part of the larger story that Lengel includes.  I supposed I have watched and used the movie Sgt. York three dozen times in my years of teaching history.  Alvin York was not a part of the Lost Battalion, but his heroic exploits, which won him fame and resulted in the movie version of his story, took place as the rescue was being effected.  York’s story is told here as well.

Image result for sgt york      Image result for sgt york

I am all for honoring heroes and this book is full of them.  But life and history is never quite that simple.  There were commanders who were out of touch with what was happening.  There were cases where responsibility was shifted by those seeking to escape blame.  When the battalion was rescued, there were some who were ready to capitalize on the successes.

Post-World War I resulted in plenty of cases of men suffering from the effects of the war.  Again, this is often forgotten.  The Great Depression and World War II trumps the first war and the post-war period.  Yes, lots of men, like Alvin York, returned home, married their sweethearts, had a family, and worked.  But even his life was more complicated than that.  Some like Charles Whittlesay never recovered from the war, the memories of the death and cries of pain, and the feeling of guilt as a commander.

These men were a fine company, and this book, despite my initial bad start, is a really engaging account.

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War in the Wasteland and Other Reads on World War I

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I recently read Douglas Bond’s War in the Wasteland after having read and taught through his book Hostage Lands.  As it turned out, War in the Wastelands, which is about World War I, was just the right book to tackle while simultaneously reading from some other World War I works, such as The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman, World War I by Michael Howard, and All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. And currently I am reading Never in Finer Company by Edward Lengel, which is about an American battalion that was caught in the middle of the Meuse-Argonne offensive.  (I will be posting a review of this book soon, D.V.)

With more books at hand, I could easily get caught up in a year or more of reading on World War I.   But the pressures of school will lead me on to other events in the 20th century.  This is the time where I will discuss Bond’s novel.

No automatic alt text available.Douglas Bond has carved out a much needed niche in writing books chocked full of history, but told in fictional form and suitable for younger Christian readers.  I hesitated about that last phrase “younger Christian readers” because it might tend to ward off adults from reading his books.  Let me repeat this saying (without knowing who to give credit to for saying it):  A good children’s (or teenage or young adult) book is one that grown ups can read and enjoy as well.  Some books are not good for us at certain ages.  Of course, some books are not good at any age.  Elie Weisel’s Night is a powerful and painful book, but not one that should be read to the wee little bairns as they are cuddled up in blankets about to go to sleep.

I think that the statement found on the cover of All Quiet on the Western Front is quite true:  “The greatest war novel of all time.”  I loved teaching this book to my high school students, loved reading it for the fourth or fifth time, loved writing the student exercises for Omnibus VI: The Modern World on the Remarque novel. That being said, it is not the book I would want to teach to junior high students about World War I.

Douglas Bond, as I previously implied, has written a whole shelf full of books on history.  History textbooks should have a warning from the Surgeon General on the front cover:  “Warning:  This book might contribute to a dislike of history by the student.  Contains many dry facts, maps, dates, etc. that will possibly hinder an unrestrained love of the past.”  Granted, I love history books, but it was a teacher, World War II documentaries, and stories, stories, stories that wooed my heart away from childhood fantasies to envisioning a future teaching history.

Bond is a story teller.  He does the historical research, carefully looks over the time and settings, and even calls forth a few actual historical figures for some cameo appearances.  He then crafts a story that will be entertaining in and of itself.  But the story is lodged within the greater story of the actual history.  G. A. Henty did this same thing in his 82,000 (I may have exaggerated) formulaic history novels.  Michael Shaara did it in Killer Angels and his son Jeff has produced a number of volumes on various wars.  Bernard Cornwell has written dozens of novels on historical events, including the Saxon series which I have been reading and collecting for several years.  And some Russian guy named Leo Tolstoy is reputed to have written something about some war and the peace that followed relating to Napoleon and Russia.

Bond’s appeal (aside from the fact that his books are 1 one thousandth the length of Tolstoy’s) is that he is writing specifically Christian books.  He is not dropping a Christian message from the sky into an otherwise pagan setting.  Nor are his books crafted so that all the participants come forward in an altar call in the last chapter.  He writes about Romans and Celts, Scotsmen in Scotland and the American colonies, Protestant Reformers, and others who would have been influenced by, aware of, and often converted to Christianity.

War in the Wastelands is about a young recruit in the British army named Nigel Hopkins who is sent over to France along with thousands of other Brits to join with the French in fighting the Boche (Germans).  World War I, after a month or so of maneuvers and movement (see Guns of August) settled in to being four years of trench warfare, a war of attrition, a war of little movement, much death and destruction, and lots of futility, waste, and angst.  Battle lines moved back and forth by a small number of miles and large numbers of casualties.  In fact, having read several accounts lately, the numbers have reached a point of not even registering in my mind due to the incomprehensibleness of so many deaths.

Young Nigel and his dog (part of the story) happen to be in a unit where there is a soldier named Perret, a sergeant named Ayres, and a lieutenant named Johnson.  These were (unlike Nigel) based on real people who served in the war.  You may have heard of them.  I had, but did not realize it.  They appear (briefly) in such books as Surprised by Joy, Mere Christianity, and other works by another real historical figure in this book.  That was C. S. Lewis.  Like his friend Tolkien, Lewis was a soldier in the war.  He was an officer; he was wounded; and he was an atheist at the time.  (Yes, there are atheists in fox holes, which were actually called funk holes in that war.)

Lewis, while talking about literature, citing lines from his poetry, and bantering with others, is questing for more than survival in the war.  The seeds that came to fruition are told of this book.  Did any of it actually happen in this way?  Read Surprised by Joy and see.  Until then, the answer is “No, not exactly like this, but what the book includes is part of the real Lewis story.”

This book makes for a helpful read for those wanting to learn about World War I.  It is good supplementary fiction, free from the textbook dangers mentioned above.  It is also a good look at the life of Lewis and the thinking that formed his mind in his pre-conversion years.  It is also a testimony to faith.  As much as I love All Quiet on the Western Front, I ache for the souls of the characters in that story.  Not so in this book, although not everyone dies trusting God.  Above all, War in the Wasteland is an enjoyable story which is the key purpose of a book.

News Update:  Douglas Bond’s newest book The Resistance, which is about World War II, is coming out and is available right now alongside of War in the Wasteland for $25.  Great for a Christmas gift to your kids, your history reading friends, and for that special someone who really likes books–yourself.

See the special offer HERE.

2-Book bundle-THE RESISTANCE & companion volume WAR IN THE WASTELAND