Christian Essentials: The Ten Commandments and The Apostles’ Creed from Lexham Press

The Ten Commandments: A Perfect Law of Liberty is by Peter J. Leithart

The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism is by Ben Myers

Both of these volumes are part of the Christian Essentials series published by Lexham Press.

 

Thank God for the massive, weighty, richly voluminous weight-lifting theological books available to us in our times.  My bookshelves are literally sagging from these huge volumes often surpassing the 1000 page mark.  From the past and the present, great works of theology have been made available to us in these times.

Yet many of us have to confess that we have bookmarks sticking out in the first chapters of these books.  Or we have cheery picked a chapter or two for particular reading.  Or we have made it through only the first volume of a multi-volume set.  Or we have read the endorsements and blushed with shame that we have not been able to echo the words of J. I. Packer or Joel Beeke about the value of some great theological treasure.

Praise God for our partially read books, our unstarted books, our good intentioned book reading, and our failed efforts to persevere.  Bit by bit, we have tasted great works.

But let us also give thanks for those books that are easily read from cover to cover.  And thanks be given for the short summaries, the “concise brevity,” to use Calvin’s words, and the books that are so easy to buy, carry around, and not only start, but finish.

Lexham Press published books of all sizes and shape.  Abraham Kuyper’s Honey From the Rock  is a physically big book from Lexham Press, but so are John Frame’s We are All Philosophers

and Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument.

 

               

Besides the differences in size and topics, these books also display the variety of theological angles that Lexham Press books are providing.  Travis James Campbell and his study titled The Wonderful Decree: Reconciling God’s Sovereign Election and Universal Benevolence and Michael Heiser’s books such as The Unseen Realm and Demons: What the Bible Really Says About the  Powers of Darkness are in the Lexham line-up.  At the same time, there are a number of rarely seen books by a few of the great Dutch theologians and thinkers such as Kuyper, Geerhardus Vos, and Groen van Prinsterer.

Then there is this fine series called Christian Essentials.

These books are short, well-bound hardbacks that address key elements of Christian doctrine and life.  They are also deceptive!  One thinks that he or she is going to skip along through a nice, devotional read, but instead, the reader discovers a deep wellspring of theological practice and thought.  Short books, to be sure, but books that are far from light and fluffy.  Readable, yes, but also deeply connected to Faith and Life.  Practical, yes.  Teachable, yes.  Understandable, yes, assuming one is in a good solid church that is supplementing a life of Christian doctrine and practice.

I read Ben Myers’ Apostles’ Creed a year or more ago.  Sometime after reading it, I pulled it off the shelf again to borrow heavily from in preaching a sermon on the Creed.  (I never got past the words “I believe” from the opening of the Creed in my sermon.) This Creed is one that all Christians should believe, embrace, and recite.  Growing up Methodist, I learned it from childhood.  Recently, Al Mohler, a Southern Baptist theologian, wrote a book on the same creed.  (Mohler’s book is good, but Myers’ book is better.)

A few months back, I received a copy of Peter Leithart’s The Ten Commandments.  I have met and heard Dr. Leithart and have read quite a few of his many books.  Hop on board the Leithart train and you will be taken on a wild and surprising journey into theology, liturgy, literature, and more.  He is, quite simply, too smart.  (Read jealousy into that statement.)  He is also a good writer.

There are a number of books, as one might guess, on the Ten Commandments.  On the one hand, I tend to shy away from some of the ones that would be more popular, trendy, and designed to go after our cultural enemies.  Note that I would probably agree with most of the content of such books, but would still not prefer to be reminded that statistical numbers and Hollywood culture are cringy signs of a culture that hates God.

My two previous and preferred books on the Ten Commandments are as follows:  I love R. J. Rushdoony’s classic Institutes of Biblical Law.  This book is large, detailed, profound, thoughtful, and revolutionary.  More than any other work I know, it expands and applies the commandments to all of life, culture, thought, politics, and society.

The second volume I like is Thomas Watson’s Ten Commandments.  This book is, in Puritan fashion, aimed at the heart.  It is rich, devotional, and filled with practical exhortations.  If you want to like the Puritans, read this book.

Now, my favorite Ten Commandments book has a third member:  Leithart’s book.  At the end of each chapter, I found myself wondering how anyone could have packed so much into so few pages.  This book is a not a call for posting the Commandments on the lawn of the city square.  Nor is this book one that places the Law of God in a museum for New Testament believers to tour and take selfies in front of.  The Law is applied to people in Christ because they are in Christ and the Ten Words are from God.

Great books–The Christian Essentials are wonderful studies, preaching and teaching tools, family worship materials, and reads.

 

 

 

History Readings on the Nightstand and Day Stack

Under a Darkening Sky:  The American Experience in Nazi Europe: 1939-1941 by Robert Lyman

This book is an account compiled from Americans who were in Germany, France, and Britain during the years when World War II began.  This is an engaging book for one who knows how the story progresses.  Many Americans in Europe felt strongly that America should have acted sooner in entering World War II.  Knowing the home-front, that was not going to happen.  It was surprising to read about how nonchalant, uninterested, and uncommitted many Germans were to the war, Hitler, and events of the time.  Also, shortages of almost everything in the Third Reich were astounding.

One who knows little of the war would not enjoy this book quite as much, but I am finding it really enjoyable, if that word can be used to describe such a depressing scenario.

This book was the sole birthday present I received some months ago.  My favorite book hunter found it for me.

The Puritans: A Transatlantic History is by David D. Hall.

I started reading from this book, little by little, several months ago.  I got 50 or more pages into this massive study, but it got shuffled aside due to other reading ventures.  Just those opening chapters were outstanding.  I am planning on going back to the beginning and reading this from cover to cover.

This is a scholarly study of the wide-ranging group of religious thinkers and doers that we call Puritans.  It deals both with the movement in England and with those who migrated to the New World.  For anyone who has simply a layman’s interest in Puritans, I would recommend more easily covered accounts.  But for a serious history reader, this is the book to go to.

The Progressive Era by Murray Rothbard

This is my second time to read a Rothbard book in recent months.  As I covered in a previous review, he is an outlier in the field of history.  In other words, he was very well educated, scholarly, and unconventional.  If you want to read the traditional accounts of American history, don’t read Rothbard.  But if you want a different, a challenging, and even a disturbing perspective to upset your mental apple carts, he is the man.

While he wrote quite a few works on American history, he never did a complete survey of our country.  In fact, this book is made up of several chapter of a manuscript along with some other related essays.

I usually find that teaching about the Progressives in American history is very difficult.  There are many students who may dislike current liberals, but they are not usually interested in seeking out the roots of the movement.  It, whatever it is, did not begin with Presidents Obama or Clinton, or even Johnson or Kennedy, or either of the Roosevelts.  Progressivism is so ingrained in our culture today that it is almost impossible to imagine a society where we were not gearing our political discourse and elections around Progressive themes.

Side note:  the previously reviewed Rothbard book was Conceived in Liberty, Volume 5.  It deals with the era in which the Constitution was written and ratified.

The University Without a Campus

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To paraphrase Charles Dickens, “It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times.”  By that I mean that the post- and also pre-World War II era, including the 1960s, was a time of great political and cultural calamities, and it was a time of great spiritual drought and uncertainty.

There was no Internet on which to search for the topic Christian worldview.  Nor was there an Amazon, Goodreads, or Abebooks on which to find needed resources.  The Christian school movement, including the revitalized classical Christian school movement and home schooling, were largely non-existent.  Christians in politics usually meant more liberal people fighting for Civil Rights (somewhat correctly) or more conservative people opposing Civil Rights (wrongly).  Christianity and philosophy were separate subjects who barely acknowledged one another.  Reformed theology was limited to a small number of folks who clung to the Five Points of Calvinism or some traditional Presbyterians who were hold-outs against the theological wars of the 1920s.

Billy Graham represented in both positive and less positive ways the face of evangelicalism.  There was little concern for finding the Christian mind because few thought that it even existed.

And yet, there were and had been a cadre of Christian scholars and thinkers who had swum against the tides.  They circles were small; their followers were few; their books were obscurely published and, in not in English, usually untranslated.  They found themselves rarely noted, reviewed, footnoted, or referenced.  This was what I called in a series of talks some years ago “The Wilderness Years.”

The topic mesmerizes me.  I was first reminded of it when James Jordan published an article called “The Closing of the Calvinistic Mind.”  Later, P. Andrew Sandlin published a similar article titled “The De-Intellectualization of the Reformed Movement.”  For them and for me, the story was powerful because it was autobiographical.  When I rediscovered this topic, somewhere around the year 2005, the age that Jordan and Sandlin wrote about had passed.  For me, it had faded into the back of my mind, but reading about it was like discovering a door leading back into the foundations of my own journey and still incomplete worldview.

As I described the events of the time, an Australian friend described the situation as “A university without a campus.”  I thought it an apt and beautiful phrase.

Like all historical recollections, this one is incomplete and not fully nuanced.  But here in this post, I want to call attention to a world of books that were, even in the most intellectually barren and spiritually slim times, “out there.”  Some few found them.  They told others.  The books got picked up here and there.  Iron sharpened iron.  The remnant read the books.

One can find many books today that are, in most respects, better written, more applicable, and improved.  But these were the books that showed up in those Wilderness Years.

Charles H. Craig

Charles H. Craig may be among the most under-acclaimed heroes of Christian publishing. He took over Presbyterian And Reformed Publishing in 1957 and was responsible for seeing to the publication of so many good books.

THE UNIVERSITY WITHOUT A CAMPUS

Books Published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company

(also called The Craig Press)in the 1950s-1970s

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Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics. 1977

——–Homosexuality: A Biblical View, 1978

Theonomy in Christian Ethics came near the end of the period that I have as my focus.  The picture above is of a much later edition.  In many ways, this book and author were high-jacked.  Dr. Bahnsen wrote a lengthy, detailed study of Biblical law.  It was attached to a movement, alternately called Theonomy or Christian Reconstruction, which made it handy to refute it by attacking some aspects of the movement.  It lessened Bahnsen’s standing as a first-rate scholar in apologetics and philosophy, not because of anything wrong with the book, but because it overshadowed the work of the man.

Whether one accepts any or all or none of its content, this was a powerful study that has yet to receive due compensation from Christian thinkers.

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Gordon H. Clark. Historiography: Secular and Religious. 1971

——–Karl Barth’s Theological Method.

———-Religion, Reason and Revelation. 1961

———-The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God. 1964

———-Three Types of Religious Philosophy. 1973

Gordon Haddon Clark was one of the greatest philosophical thinkers of the 20th century.  Wheaton College committed a kamikaze attack on its own academic standards when it pushed him aside decades ago.  Controversies within Presbyterian circles pitted Clark against Cornelius Van Til, resulting in the small remnant of Calvinist thinkers battling each other rather than confronting the enemies in the opposing trenches.

Much recovery has been done by Douglas Douma’s biography of Clark, titled The Presbyterian Philosopher:  The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark. There are probably more serious students of Clark’s writings than ever before. R. C. Sproul said that Clark is one of the few Christians of our time who will be read 500 years from now.  Almost all of his books are currently in print from the Trinity Foundation.

The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark by [Doug J. Douma, Lois Zeller, Betsy Clark George]

Norman De Jong. Christianity and Democracy. 1978

———-Education in the Truth. 1977

While many evangelicals accepted, embraced, and defended public schools, the Dutch in America maintained a suspicion and opposition to Christ-less education.  They were not fighting against integration, the removal of non-descript prayers, or evolution; rather, they embraced a whole philosophy of education.  Norman De Jong wrote several books that provided such foundations.

Herman Dooyeweerd. The Christian Idea of the State. 1968

———-In the Twilight of Western Thought. 1960, 1980

———-A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, 4 Volumes. 1953

One of the greatest names in philosophy in the world today is a name that is ignored still in many philosophy departments both secular and religious.  Herman Dooyeweerd, a Dutchman, wrote extensively on philosophy and culture. Through most of his life, he was little known here in the United States.  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing picked up some of his books and lectures, or had them translated, for the North American readers.  HD is not an easy read, but he has sparked a number of followers in philosophy, history, and theology.

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David Hugh Freeman. A Philosophical Study of Religion. 1964

———-Recent Studies in Philosophy and Religion. 1962

Freeman wrote and contributed to a number of volumes that P & R published.

E. R. Geehan, editor. Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and  Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til. 1971

This work, which probably garnered few readers, was an in-depth discussion of Cornelius Van Til’s thought as critiqued and defended by friends and foes.

Philip Edgecombe Hughes, Christianity and the Problem of Origins. 1974

Reverend Hughes wrote quite a few fine books, including several Bible commentaries.  He taught at Columbia Theological Seminary due to a grant for a theology professor from a wealthy conservative donor.  A British scholar, Hughes wrote the little noticed short work listed above.  I read it for a Western Civilization class taught by Henry Wood, one of that small remnant who read the Calvinist thinkers back in their day.  That short work was powerful. It needs to be made available again.

Jon R. Kennedy. The Reformation of Journalism: A Christian Approach to Mass  Communication. 1972

Both the book and the author are forgotten.  I read it back in the 1970s because I was taking some journalism classes.

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Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Dr. Francis Nigel Lee

Francis Nigel Lee. A Christian Introduction to the History of Philosophy. 1969, 1978

———-Communism Versus Creation. 1969

———-Communist Eschatology. 1974

———Origin and Destiny of Man. 1974

Francis Nigel Lee was a prolific writer, a scholar who collected Ph. D.’s like other people collect coffee mugs, and an engaging preacher.  He wrote several fine books, but the biggest was Communist Eschatology.  I spent a couple of years searching for this book.  I could remember back when P & R was just about giving it away.  Finally, I contacted Christian cartoonist Vic Lockman, who agreed to sell me his autographed copy.

I had the pleasure of reconnecting Vic and Dr. Lee via emails.  I was saddened when Lee died some years back.

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Ronald H. Nash, editor. The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark. 1968

The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark: A Festschrift - Ronald H. Nash Ed. - 1968 HB

In Hot Spring, Arkansas some years ago, I was searching–I thought in vain–through the most worthless, cluttered, junky used bookstore I have ever been in.  98 percent of the books were trade paperback romance novels and the like.  But somewhere in the high reaches on a shelf, I saw a good hardcover edition of this festschrift to Gordon Clark.  Outstanding book, containing contributions from several of the other authors mentioned in this posting.

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Gary North, economist, libertarian political thinker, theonomist, Christian Reconstructionist, author, and more.

Gary North, An Introduction to Christian Economics, 1973

———-Marx’s Religion of Revolution: The Doctrine of Creative Destruction. 1968

Although I now have a couple of dozen books by Gary North, I don’t think I have ever acquired An Introduction to Christian Economics.  From these two books that North did for P&R, he went on to create his own publishing firms which were putting out his books and those of his followers.  It is easy to find fault with Gary North on some topic or the other, but the man wrote some fine studies and has labored hard for the cause of Christian thought.

Vern S. Poythress. Philosophy, Science, and the Sovereignty of God. 1976

This book has been reprinted, revised, and expanded.  Poythress is among the last of the old-time Calvinist worldview thinkers who has lived on to be in the top cadre of such writers and thinkers.  His books are many.  I know because I keep trying to get all of them.

W. Stanford Reid. Christianity and Scholarship.

I am not sure if I have this book or not.  The topic is one on which dozens of books are being published today, but it was not as common in the past.

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Rousas John Rushdoony. Foundations of Social Order. 1968

———-Institutes of Biblical Law. 1973

———-Intellectual Schizophrenia. 1961

———Law and Liberty. 1971

———-The Messianic Character of American History. 1968

———-The Myth of Overpopulation. 1969

———-The Mythology of Science. 1967

———-The Nature of the American System. 1965

———-The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Order and Ultimacy. 1971

———-Politics of Guilt and Pity. 1970.

———-This Independent Republic. 1964

Pilloried, ignored, discounted, and politely not mentioned, Rousas John Rushdoony was one of the most important thinkers and writers of the 20th century in regard to Christian thought.  Yes, he was wrong sometimes, but try reading Augustine and Calvin for perfect thinking.  RJR was the most widely diffused thinker I have ever been acquainted with.  I met him a few times, corresponded with him a few times, and read and listened to him quite a bit.

The books listed above are, besides being on a variety of topics, brilliant gems.

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C. Gregg Singer. From Rationalism to Irrationality: The Decline of the Western Mind From the Renaissance to the Present. 1979

———John Calvin: His Roots and Fruits

———-A Theological Interpretation of American History. 1964

It was Singer, along with Rushdoony, whose books first taught me a critical lesson:   I didn’t know how to read serious, analytical material.  And another lesson:  I didn’t know how to think Christianly about politics and culture.  Even on points where I disagree with the late Dr. Singer now, I still have to respect what his books taught me.

J. M. Spier. Christianity and Existentialism. 1953

———-An Introduction to Christian Philosophy. 1966

Spier was another Dutchman, I think, who helped pave the way for English speaking people to read and understand Dooyeweerd.

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Hebden Taylor. The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics and the State. 1966

———-Economics, Money, and Banking , 1978

———-Evolution and the Reformation of Biology. 1967

———-Reformation or Revolution. 1970

E. L. Hebden Taylor was a British Anglican theologian and writer.  His books are all out of print and hard to find.  One of my copies came to me from New Zealand.  A dear couple, the young man now deceased, gave me copies of The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics, and the State and Reformation or Revolution.  Taylor was a strong disciple of Herman Dooyeweerd.

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H. Van Reissen, author of Society of the Future and a monograph titled Nietzsche.

H. Van Reissen, The Society of the Future. 1952

Van Reissen was a Dutchman, part of the cast of thinkers in the Free University of Amsterdam orbit, and a profound Christian scholar.

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Cornelius Van Til. The Case for Calvinism. 1964

———-Christian Theistic Ethics. 1971

———-A Christian Theory of Knowledge. 1969

———-Christianity and Barthianism. 1962

———Christianity and Idealism. 1955

———Christianity and Modern Theology. 1955

——–Common Grace, 1947

———-The Defense of the Faith. 1955

———-An Introduction to Systematic Theology. 1966

———The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel. 1953

Cornelius Van Til was one of the greatest apologists of his and our time.  There are plenty of critics around.  I cannot completely land myself within his complete system, but I have gained so much from my limited studies of the man and his labors.

In the late 1990s, P&R would publish two major studies of Cornelius Van Til.  One was by Greg Bahnsen and the other by John Frame.

         

William Young. Foundations of Theory

———-Hegel’s Dialectic Method: Its Origins and Religious Significance. 1972

Young was a translator of Dooyeweerd’s New Critique , and he authored a couple of philosophical studies.  A few years back, another company published a collection of his writings which range from philosophy to theology.

             

Modern Thinkers Series, edited by David H. Freeman

Nietzsche by H. Van Reissen

Kierkegaard by S. U. Zuidema

Dewey by Gordon H. Clark

Bultmann by Herman Ridderbos

Sartre by S. U. Zuidema

Van Til by Rousas J. Rushdoony

Niebuhr by G. Brillenburg Wurth

Barth by A. D. R. Polman

Tillich by David H. Freeman

James by Gordon H. Clark

Freud by Rousas J. Rushdoony

Toynbee by C. Gregg Singer

This set of books was outstanding in its day.  I have several of them and wish I had them all.  P&R has somewhat revived the tradition with its Great Thinkers Series.

Books Published by Baker Book House

Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism.

H. Henry Meeter, Basic Ideas of Calvinism. 1939

Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture. 1959

Baker Book House often worked in tandem with Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing.  These three books are all classics in the field.  I think that they may all still be available.

Books Published by William B. Eerdmans

Gordon H. Clark, A Christian Philosophy of Education. 1946

———-A Christian View of Men and Things. 1952

Herman Dooyeweerd, Transcendental Problems of Philosophical Thought. 1948.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. 1923

Four books among many that William B. Eerdmans published that were influential in Calvinistic Worldview Thinking.

Books Published by Ross House Books

Gary North, editor, Foundations of Christian Scholarship: Essays in the Van Til Perspective. 1979

Ross House became the publishing firm for R. J. Rushdoony’s books.  They are still pouring out old and newly published volumes of his work.  This work was an early publication that has some really tough essays on Christian thought.  It is worth searching for and buying.

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Time  fails me from being able to scope out and discuss, even briefly, many of the other works of the Wilderness Years.  Besides the men mentioned above, others like George Grant, John Frame, Joseph Morecraft, Gary DeMar, David Chilton, Calvin Seerveld, H. Evan Runner, Arthur Holmes,  Carl F. H. Henry,  and many more were writing, teaching, preaching, and laying the foundations for Christian thinking from solidly Reformed positions.

Also, much more could be said about the formative roles of James Orr, a Scotsman, and those incredible Dutchmen–Groen van Prinsterer, Abraham Kuyper, and Herman Bavinck.

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Paul versus the Philosophers and America versus the Just War Tradition

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These two excellent morning readings of late are on very different subjects, consisting of multiple contributors, and both enriching.

America and the Just War Tradition: A History of U. S. Conflicts is edited by Mark David Hall and J. Daryl Charles and is published by Notre Dame Press.

Paul and the Giants of Philosophy: Reading the Apostle in Greco-Roman Context is edited by Joseph R. Dodson and David E. Briones and is published by InterVarsity Press.

The overwhelming criteria for my reading plans is that a particular book is close at hand.  I could wish that I had a drive to master particular topics and could read with a greater goal in mind.  But I accept my gadfly reading program and often surprise myself at how themes and commonalities crop up in spite of my non-intentions.

Paul and the Giants of Philosophy

I have been repeatedly made aware of how deficient my own education has been due to a lack of philosophy studies.  I have majors in history and English, but was never required to study philosophy.  It is inescapable for both of those fields.  I have also been involved in studying the Bible and theology since my late teen years.   I served as a pastor in the past and am still a teacher in a classical Christian school.  While philosophy and the Bible are not equal, any serious student of the Bible and theology must, as in MUST, study at least some philosophy.

This is not a case where one must go on a difficult journey to find someone, somewhere, who has written something on the connection between the history of philosophy and the history of the Church, or philosophical issues and theological issues, or of philosophers who were also Christians.  You want to get books on philosophy and Christianity?  Better get a large bookcase and a big budget.

The great thing about Paul and the Giants of Philosophy is its accessibility.  Each chapter takes one of the philosophers of the Greco-Roman world and presents their views on a topic and then contrasts those views with Paul’s writings.  There is more interaction between Paul and the philosophers in the Stoic tradition rather than examinations of Paul’s writings viewed in the light of “The Big Three,” meaning Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  Certainly, more in-depth, scholarly, weighty, academic books can and have been written.

But this book is readable, enjoyable, and geared toward the non-expert.  I firmly believe that my philosophy professor and student friends and son would find reading this book profitable, but it is geared toward those of us who read Paul a lot and Stoics rarely.  But, for those who wish to know more, each chapter ends with suggested readings giving both primary and secondary sources for the more serious pursuit of the topics.  And each chapter has some discussion questions as well.

I believe that this would be an excellent book to use in a college philosophy survey.  It could also be used in any course studying Paul in his historical and cultural context.  Some groups would enjoy this for a series of Sunday school lessons or as a book club read.  And, with strong, hot, black coffee, it is wonderful for morning reading.

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I usually begin with some readings related to the Bible and theology, and after that, I like to read something that fits into the broader Christian worldview perspective.  This is what led to my reading of America and the Just War Tradition.

America and the Just War Tradition

This book is like a long trip for a child.  What was overwhelmingly attracting me was the chapter by chapter survey of the various wars that the United States has fought in, beginning with the War for Independence and going up to current engagements in the War on Terror, meaning Iraq and Afghanistan.

But before one can get into the fun stuff, there is a long chapter written by the editors, Dr. Hall and Dr. Charles, titled “The Just War Tradition and America’s Wars.”  These 50 pages constitute what could be a short book on its own.  We all have a sense of certain wars or aspects of wars being just or unjust.  We all have a list of do’s and don’t’s about what is allowable in war.  On the one extreme, we would find pacifists who would eschew all wars.  There is within the Christian tradition a great amount of history and theology to support such a view.  As one whose military “experience” consists only in teaching about war, I have a heart-felt desire for pacifism.  But it is not easily sustained in light of real world conditions.

On the other hand, you would find extreme nationalist views which would justify any and every war that America or some other country of one’s origins has fought.  I find a certain sympathy with that position as well.  We honor the military men who, as we say, fought for our liberties and right to be free.  But exactly what liberties and freedoms for us were they fighting for in the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, and possibly some or all of the others?

The weighing out of justice or injustice in war is not merely a matter of gut reactions or simplistic patriotic urges.  The Just War Tradition largely grew out of the context of Western Civilization, or we could even say Christendom.  The greatest philosophers and theologians have thought seriously about the ethics of conflict on both a personal and nation-wide level.  Growing out of the thinking of such people as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, philosophers have agreed (always a slippery word to use) on what constitutes justness before, during, and after war.  The Latin phrases which permeate this book and topic are Ius ad bellum, Ius in bello, and Ius post bellum.  

Ius ad bellum, justness before war, begins with just cause, which is followed by just authority,  and right intention.  Ius ad bello, justness in war, hinges on discrimination and proportionality.   Ius post bellum deals with how the results are handled, what happens to the people and countries that were defeated, and what follows from that war.

As might be guessed, a war could be started for wrong reasons, conducted honorably (according to the criteria), and ended well.  Or you can mix and match the ingredients in a wide variety of ways.  As helpful as the criteria are, such things are not always clear cut.  War is so horrible that it sometimes seems insane to try to make it a subject of calm, reasoned discourse.

I majored in history in college.  I have taken courses that have included or primarily focused upon the wars of the United States.  I would guess that I have a thousand books dealing with war.  But this book revealed how little I actually understood or had been subjected to understanding the historical, philosophical, and traditional views of Just War.  That is the long journey that the reader has to take before getting to “the answers” in the chapters on America’s wars.

To quickly comment upon the wars, each chapter has a different contributor.  I honestly think there is not a bad or weak essay in the lot.  Part of the delight in this book is the cases where I was surprised or even shocked by the views of the authors.  I would tend, for example, to find the American War for Independence just and defensible, but Dr. John D. Roche thinks not.  Amazing argument, this chapter didn’t convince me, but it did humble me a bit. Many chapters later, I thought that there was little or no way to defend the American experience in Vietnam, but Mackubin Thomas Owens’s chapter blew me away.

As indicated in the review above regarding the Bible and philosophy, history teachers must study philosophy.  Just War is a philosophical and ethics related tradition and a theological concern as well.  Studying this book will not give you the set of pat answers to why this war and not that one was right or wrong.  But it will give perspective.

History teachers, read this book.  As a further note, it is chocked full of other reading suggestions on both the specific wars and on the topic in general.  I am convinced that I must acquire Michael Walzer’s book Just and Unjust Wars.  Also, I am confirmed in my conviction that Mark David Hall is one of the best resources for serious historical and political studies in our time.  I learned of him last year from political theorist Koty Arnold just after Hall’s book Did America Have a Christian Founding? was published.  I am now on a quest to obtain and read all that Dr. Hall writes.

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It’s Getting Western Real Fast Now: Four Histories of the American West

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History has been my life and career.  I decided in 9th grade, back in 1970, that I wanted to be a history teacher and never swerved off that path through the years that followed.  I have also been other things, such as a newspaper reporter, a convenience store worker, a pastor, a school administrator, and a teacher of other subjects, but I have always at heart been a history teacher.  The realm of history is, however, vast so I have my areas of focus, or what we might call specialization.  That is a fancy way of saying that some parts of history are of more interest to me than other parts.  Generally, I prefer 20th Century history to anything Medieval.  Always, I prefer political history over social or economic history.  I have read and taught the War Between the States without ever acquiring the ability to know when I should end the topic and move on.  Being one of the most non-military type people in the universe, I have, nevertheless, read and taught enough military history to at least get honorary rank of private, no class.

As a teacher of American history in most of my classroom ventures, I have tried to avoid getting too interested in the history of the American West.  On the one hand, that is impossible because the American West was originally the lands just past the coastlines of the original colonies.  The western frontier was a moving, fluid concept with different boundary lines, different cultural events, and different settlers all the up to 1890.  On the other hand, there are too many events that are directly tied to the west, as defined by the areas across the Mississippi River that were settled, fought over, and brought into the union from the time of the Louisiana Purchase and beyond.

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I tried to avoid the numerous Indian Wars, except the Nez Pearce’s ill fated skirmishes with the U. S. cavalry when they were led by Chief Joseph.  I tried to keep cowboys and cattle drives, saloons and settlements, outlaws and sheriff’s posses all confined to the television shows I loved as a kid and still enjoy on occasion.

But recently, I slipped away by night from the 20th Century, from Puritans, from Confederates, and from all other realms of history, and headed out west.

It all started with Dreams of El Dorado: A History of the American West by H. W. Brands.  This book was published by Basic Books in 2019, and I acquired it with a gift card from Christmas.

I have several books by University of Texas (Austin) history department chairman Dr. Brands.  He is not only quite prolific as an author, but he has written on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from both Roosevelts, to Benjamin Franklin, to Andrew Jackson, to books on western settlement.  He is one of those few authors who is both an academic professor and a writer of popular narrative histories.  In short, I would not hesitate to pick up any book that he has written (which total over 30) and would find them enjoyable reading.

This book goes back to the earliest of American (here meaning United States) explorations.  The western (here meaning west of the Mississippi River) expansion began with the fur trade.  For certain, the western man was rugged, tough, engaged with weather and conflicts, and resilient.  We have lots of myths about frontiersmen, but the myths exist only because there were actual people bearing mythic qualities.

The west is a complex story, filled with fur traders and Indian conflicts, religious migrations and Indian conflicts, wagon trains and Indian conflicts, gold strikes and Indian conflict, cattle drives and Indian conflicts, the Civil War and Indian conflicts, railroads, buffaloes, untamable lands, impassible mountains, raging streams, frontier justice/injustice, territorial expansion, broken hearts and bodies, and Indian conflicts.

As a non-specialist in American western studies, I was continually amazed at how much I was familiar with.  There is no study of American history without a Conestoga wagon being pulled (hopefully) by oxen and mules and heading toward the direction of the setting sun.  While El Dorado, the mythical city of gold, was never found, many El Dorados were found.

Brands’ book might be bypassed by the college professor who wants a more scholarly, footnote laden, “this scholar contends, while that scholar objects,” politically correctly, and horrendously overpriced university press book for a 300 or 400 level history course.  I disagree.  This book is good history and good reading.  Add on, Mr. or Madame Professor, a few more in-depth monographs, but assign this book.  Historians must never forget that story is essential to history, and that story must be engaging.

Massacre in Minnesota: The Dakota War of 1862–The Most Violent Ethnic Conflict in American History by Gary Clayton Anderson is published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

Dr. Anderson is an authority on western, Native American, and U. S. history, with having authored a dozen books.  He even wrote one criticizing Texas.  That is one brave historian, and I hope he has had facial recognition surgery to protect himself from some of my Texas friends.

This book was for me what reading history must be like for many people.  I was largely unfamiliar with most of the names, places, and events in the book.  My knowledge of Minnesota history basically begins with the late 1940s and 1950s when Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy began rising to prominence as leaders in the Democrat Party.  I had heard of the mass hanging, eerily photographed and often reprinted, that was part of the outcome of this event.  The Dakota tribe was just a name that merged in with the several dozen Indian tribes that I have read over and past through in many surveys of American history.

After feeling frustrated for not grasping more of the details of this event (and surprise that I never really knew about it), I remembered that Dr. Anderson began the book by telling that how he had been studying, thinking through, and researching this story for four and a half decades.  Why should I expect that one book read over a period of a few weeks would fast forward me through what he has spent a lifetime studying?

There are basically three stories in this book, and all three of them are sad, tragic, and painful to read about.  History is not for sissies.  If you want knights rescuing damsels in distress, pure heroes and heroines, and truth, justice, and the American way, go to some source other than history.  (Hence, referring back to Dr. Anderson’s book on Texas, even the Lone Star State is a collective sinner in need of grace.)

The first story is one that is overall familiar.  Treaties, reservations, and corruption were endemic problems.  No one wishing to make a case for government involvement in human affairs would want to call in examples from how the Dakota tribes were dealt with.  Some people benefited greatly from these actions, but they were usually the government agents who were mishandling funds.  The Dakota people had few resources and means to combat and certain few, if any, to correct the abuses.

That led to the second story which was an outbreak of hostilities between Indians and whites.  As has often been said, when whites fought and won a conflict, it was called a battle, but when Indians won, it was called a massacre.  This part of the story is a horror story equal to the best/worst accounts that we have read about or watched on old television westerns and movies.  White communities were attacked, men, women, and children were killed, torturous methods were used on human beings.  In many cases, the news accounts became exaggerated and accounts were tweaked to satisfy the morbid curiosity of those far from the scenes.  Then there were the stories of rapes and abuses of women.  White people who had co-existed near Indian tribes were victims of the attacks; militia units hastily formed to stop the attacks suffered as well.

This was all happening during 1862, so the United States was so focused on what were the worst years of the Civil War for the Union that few resources were available to rescue the area.  In what was the only bit of humor found in the book, one U. S. soldier said that the weapons he and others were issued were so bad that they  should have been given to the Indians to help defeat them.  As expected, as is the case in every book and account of white and Indian civilizations at war, eventually, the power, numbers, and resources fell to the whites.

The third story may be accounted as the most tragic and horrible of them all.  It is the story of injustice.  Indians were not reckoned as a military enemy in the traditional sense.  Nor were they citizens.  There were trials of large numbers of the captured warriors.  These trials sounded more like things I have read about “justice” in Stalinist and Nazi regimes than what I would have expected in America.  Bereft of counsel, deficient in understanding of the English language, totally lacking knowledge of the justice system, one after another, Indian men were hauled before the courts, given a brief (often less than an hour) of trial, and sentenced to death by hanging.

This world is complicated.  Understanding doesn’t always excuse evils, but it often helps explain why things happened.  In many cases, Indian men took white women and made them their wives.  That was their way.  In the white world, this was abuse and rape.  I honestly felt grief for both sides in this situation.  I could wish that mercy had triumphed over justice.

Over three hundred Indian men were sentenced to hang, but President Lincoln pardoned most of them.  Granted, some who died had been criminal in their war waging, but again, the system was complicated.  Thankfully, there were Christians among both white and red peoples who sought to do right; however, these instances were far too few.

I wish I were convinced that we actually learn from history and correct the wrongs of the past.  There is so much to learn here.  Grievous though this story is, it needs to be read, remembered, and mourned over.

The Second Colorado Cavalry: A Civil War Regiment on the Great Plains by Christopher M. Rein is published by the University of Oklahoma Press

I am still reading this book so I will limit my remarks.  First, this book is a useful follow up to reading Thomas W. Cutrer’s Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River.  That book is my “go to” work on any of the campaigns and battles that took place in that most neglected part of the Late Unpleasantness.

Second, Colorado was a territory, along with New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and other places in the far west.  Like the California Gold Rush of a few years earlier, Colorado had drawn hordes of men interested in finding gold.  Some came out of the South, some from the North.  In some ways, the small battles, whose numbers pale before the fight going on along the eastern and middle parts of the country, seem inconsequential.  The Confederacy tried, unsuccessfully, to extend the boundaries of their nation to the western regions.  Units like the Second Colorado Cavalry tied into battle and stopped them.

What difference did it make?  Or could that have turned the course of the war?  Interesting questions, but those who fought, died, were injured, or maimed in those battles were just as much dedicated soldiers fighting for beliefs and visions as were those who are buried at Gettysburg.

I hope to report more on this book later. Perhaps it is of interest only to those who are really engaged in not just the Civil War but the less known theaters of the war.

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Author Stephen Harrigan standing outside the Alamo holding his book.

 

Big, Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas by Stephen Harrigan is published by the University of Texas Press.

Weighing in at close to 1000 page, this history of Texas promises to be fun.  I reckon that like the two books immediately preceding this one, there are some terrible tales that will make even Texans humble themselves into a repentant attitude.  But this book, which I have yet to start, looks to simply be lots of fun.

I count it as a near miracle that I survived 7th grade Texas history class.  I even became a history teacher, not because of, but in spite of that class.  It was terrible.  The “bless her heart” teacher apparently knew nothing about Texas, 7th grade boys, or teaching.  (I warn’t no saint either.)  When I taught Arkansas history, I often told my Arkansawyer students that most of their (now mine as well) state’s history was the story of people passing through on the way to Texas.

James Michener wrote a fat novel called Texas.  The very state just demands BIG.  Granted that Michener’s writing tended toward obesity of prose, he would have made a novel about Monaco at least 500 pages.  I have often taught a portion of Michener’s draft that got cut out and then was revised to make a separate book.  Titled The Eagle and the Raven, that historical novel compares and contrasts the careers of Santa Anna and Sam Houston.  But, I have read far too little about the state I grew up in.  In fact, I know far too little about the state.  Unfortunately, when I was able to travel, we usually opted to head north to north east to find cooler climates and mountains.  Living in the corner of northeast Texas and now southwest Arkansas, Texas was too hot during the summer to draw me into traveling there.

I hope Emily Dickinson was right in saying, “There is no frigate like a book to take us miles away,” because I am going to travel across geography and time to visit the great state of Texas in this book.

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How to Read the Histories We Object To

 

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How the South Won the Civil War:  Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America by Heather Cox Richardson is published by Oxford University Press.

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For more than forty years now, nearly eight times as long as the war itself, I have been a student of the war that is called both the Civil War and the War Between the States.  In classroom lectures, I have devoted much attention to the battles over just what the war ought to be called.  I will, in this post, use Civil War mainly because it is the shorter and most familiar name.

As a Southerner, I have imbibed a love of most things Southern.  (Humidity and August heat are still not favored.)  Southern history, literature, theologians, music, folkways, myths and legends, music, and food top my lists of loves and likes.  William Faulkner and Rick Bragg are both in among my pantheon of favorite authors.  Add Flannery O’Connor to that list.  Robert L. Dabney and J. Gresham Machen are favorite theologians.  And the heyday of American music was and may still be at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Some years ago, I gave a couple of talks on the War.  My first talk was called “The Tragedy of the South Going to War.”  Of course, heading the bullet points from that talk would be the fact that the South lost and lost totally.  The failure of compromise, the rush to arms, and other factors compounded or caused the tragedy.  The second talk was called “The Blessings of the South Losing the War.”  In short, as Walker Percy, famed author, noted, the South produced great writers because “We lost the War.”  Losing preserved, conserved, and consolidated many things in the Southern states and culture that would have otherwise been lost in the embracing of Progress.  (One should detect a bit of the 12 Southerners who wrote  I’ll Take My Stand in that sentence.)

There is no dealing with the South without facing the abuses from slavery in the past, racial injustices through the decades before and after the war, and ongoing racial problems in all part of the United States.  “Yes, but” can be followed up with any number of details that can give perspective, pause, and nuances to the history, but we are not talking about mistakes, or poor judgments, or bad manners.  We are talking of sin.  A nation with as many Southern Christians as there have been should not repent of the past (which is cost free), but the sins ought to have been recognized, called out, condemned, judged, and dealt with at the time.

That being said, I was quite interested when I first learned of a new book titled How the South Won the Civil War by Heather Cox Richardson.  The Civil War may have been fought out and settled on a few dozen major battlefields, but the issues were not resolved to the satisfaction of all.  On the one hand, it may have been the greatest example of the ad baculum fallacy (an appeal to force) ever, for the stick was used to pound the Confederacy into agreement.  On the other hand, it may have been the best use of the ad baculum method.

There remain issues of the constitutionality of secession, total war, the nature of the state, use and abuse of politics, the justification of war against civilians, the intent of the Founders, centralization of government, suspension of constitutional rights, the legitimacy of the Declaration of Independence, and a host of other matters that came up during Reconstruction.  Southern arguments were discredited by defeat.

Just consider the following statement by James Oscar Farmer, Jr. in his book  The Metaphysical Confederacy: James Henley Thornwell and the Synthesis of Southern Values (Mercer University Press):

“The reason for this unwillingness or inability to deal with the values of the old South in an objective way is not hard to discover. Eric McKitrick perhaps puts it most succinctly when he writes that ‘nothing is more susceptible to oblivion than an argument, however ingenious, that has been discredited by events.’ He adds that the works of Southerners have ‘remained superbly unread’….
“Two sets of values have been in opposition to one another through most of our history as a nation; one has cherished dynamism, cosmopolitanism, rationalism, and egalitarianism, while the other has preferred stability, localism, faith, and deference.”

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That being the case, I was eager to read  How the South Won the Civil War.  I was expecting something regarding Southern culture and traditions (in the Agrarian tradition), or Southern literature (in the New Critic, Agrarian, Southern Renaissance tradition), or politics (in the tradition of a number of studies on Southern political leaders), or the ongoing popularity of Confederate leaders, the battle flag, or ideas, or some discussion of political topics (in the tradition of works by scholars such as M. E. Bradford and Eugene Genovese).

This book was none of those things.  Dr. Richardson’s thesis is that white oligarchs from the South sought to suppress the voices, opportunities, and freedoms of women, people of color, and lower classes.  Having failed in the war itself, the same controlling motif continued to motivate Southerners after the war and then found alliances in the western parts of the United States.

Let’s call it the Cotton and Cattle Alliance.  Or Confederates and Cowboys.  In the west, those being suppressed were Native Americans, immigrants largely from China, Hispanics, and women.  Culture, literature, movies and television (in time), and political power worked to make the ruling white male class more powerful and the others less so.

In the center of the target being fired upon are such people as the late Senator Barry Goldwater, conservative thinker William F. Buckley, Jr., President Ronald Reagan, Phyllis Schlafly, all evangelical pro-life voters, and more. Of course, by the end of the book, Donald Trump was the target.

Let me quickly point out a few ways one should approach a book where the disagreement factor goes off the scale.

  1.  The serious student/reader/reviewer must first listen.  That means to be quiet, read the book, and hear the arguments.
  2.  The serious student must determine that the issues, charges, thesis, contentions of the book must be evaluated slowly and carefully.  It is not enough to find a glitch here or a rebuttal there.
  3.   The serious student must not defend the indefensible.  That racism, oppression, political corruption have existed and that people much like me or you have been guilty is a given.  I stand with the author in condemning such.
  4.   The serious student must take into account that an author, professor, and scholar has devoted lots of time to developing the arguments.  No quick shots from the hip should be employed to settle the score.  Time, study, patience, consideration, and research are needed.

All of that being said, history is ugly.  The doctrine of sin, meaning the Fall,  Original Sin, and Total Depravity (to use the Calvinist term), is the defining explanation of history, alongside of Creation and Redemption.

I will say that I find the book a book too heavy in terms of ripping Republicans, westerners, southerners, whites, and evangelicals for a university press title.  It read like a liberal alternative to the John Birch Society. It seems to follow the Howard Zinn approach to history, with the same blunt honesty as to where it is coming from.

It is also interesting that the book never acknowledges the examples, which are myriad, that counter the arguments.  It was the conservative Republicans who supported such people as Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, Ben Carson, and others.  Reagan appointed the first woman to the Supreme Court and his successor appointed the second African American to the court.  Lyndon Johnson used, even more so than Barry Goldwater, cowboy images of himself.  Dr. Richardson also seemed quite muddled over what to make of Theodore Roosevelt, who was a cowboy, a Republican, an individualist, a Progressive, and more.

Yes, an oligarchy may be said to rule.  But the wealthy in our country and the wealthy who use their powers to sway politics includes both Republicans and Democrats (and even multi-millionaire Socialist Bernie Sanders).  Women and people of color have achieved numerous offices and positions in both parties.  Old white guys of both parties have made crude, racist, vulgar, and evil remarks.  (It is interesting to contrast the more diverse field of Presidential candidates in the Republican Party of 2016 with the Democratic Party in 2020.)

All political issues are presented simplistically.  Communism was presented as a clear black and white issue, but Cold Warriors were found in both parties.  Very tellingly, abortion is the murder of babies.  Many Catholic and Protestants of both parties (particularly in the past) said so.  Also, the first state to allow women to vote was Wyoming.

Contending that the soul of America has been fouled by white, fundamentalist Confederates and Cowboys is a hefty charge.  I think the book certain achieved the goal of being written with passion.  But I think there is much more to be said.

 

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Protestants and American Conservatism by Gillis J. Harp

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Protestants and American Conservatism: A Short History by Gillis J. Harp is published by Oxford University Press.  Dr. Harp is a professor of history at Grove City College.

I became a Christian around the year 1972.  A few years later, I self-consciously began identifying myself as a conservative.  The conversion came about from the benefits of a lifelong family commitment to attending church and respecting the Christian faith.  In God’s timing, I began finding sermons, previously uninteresting, suddenly compelling and convicting.  Many factors contributed to what I now know was the work of the Holy Spirit convincing and convicting and drawing me to Christ.

Many factors also contributed to my becoming a conservative.  One night, Johnny Carson had William F. Buckley, Jr. on his show as a guest.  The next day, I went to the college library and checked out God and Man at Yale.  I devoured it.  This was during a season of my life when I was being overwhelmed with a myriad of ideas and concepts.  The biggest intellectual change in my life at that time was embracing a Calvinistic Worldview.  That changed and solidified all types of things in my life.  It put me on a trajectory that has never changed.

But rethinking has been a way of life since the beginning.  Much of what is found in Protestants and American Conservatism is almost biographical.  Familiar names, issues, historical time periods,  political fights, and the changing conservative agendas and definitions have been consuming passions for me in my personal thinking, teaching, lecturing, and writing.

The tendency in our time is to have quite simple ideas of what Conservatism and Liberalism are.  Turn on conservative talk radio and a number of hosts will be there usually defending Pres. Trump and touting his conservative credentials.  A few years back, they were castigating Pres. Obama and attacking his liberal views.  Turn to many of the more liberal media formats and the opposite cases are being presented.  Then there are those who now proclaim that any Republican who is not lining up exactly on the conservative’s check list is a RINO, that is, a Republican in Name Only.

Go back a few years and we have the rise of what has been called the Christian Right, the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and other names, all of which are highlighting the politically conservative and usually Republican-leaning views of evangelical Christians.  Of course, this opens the discussion up to other types of Christians who may not identify as evangelical, fundamentalist, Protestant, or conservative.

When did this all start?  Some say when Ronald Reagan created his winning coalition in 1980.  Some say when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of abortion in 1973 (although Protestants remained asleep for a half decade on that one).  Some date events back as far as the Goldwater race for the Presidency in 1964.  Or maybe it does goes back to Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, published in 1951.

All those markers are useful, and a number of books have been written on both the popular and scholarly levels attempting to alert, alarm, or inform readers of the cultural, political, economic, and philosophical crises of our times. But the strength, the key selling point of this book is that while it covers all of the events listed above, it takes the issue of Christian conservative thought back to the Colonial Era.

This is not just another “America was founded by Christians” book.  Lest anyone think I was being sarcastic with that sentence, I firmly believe our Colonial and Revolutionary Founders were Christians, with many being self-consciously focused on applying the precepts of the faith to events of their times.

“Nothing is simple,” says my former history professor Dr. Tom Wagy.  The interaction of Protestants with politics has a long and textured history.  It was not as though they were all trying to impose a Christian form or design on the political order.  Rather, they carried deep presuppositions about the nature of man, of society, about the covenantal and historic connections between the faith and the social order, and about the applications of such presuppositions in their times.

Christianity is not safely caged within a political creed.  One can argue that the Pharisees and Romans were the conservatives of their day.  Certainly, those who didn’t skip across the pond to start new versions of church and state were not trying to conserve the English status quo.  Nor were Loyalists during the American Revolution the liberals in the scuffle over rule of the colonies.

Literature is full of cases of characters donning someone else’s uniform or armor.  Patroclus, in Homer’s Iliad, Achilles’s armor, leading to his death in battle.  Christians have been sometimes too quick to embrace a political view that puts them in the wrong battle or at least in a awkward position.  Events both prior to and after the American Civil War put Christians in a variety of odd positions regarding application of the faith.

To be sure, I believe that Christian presuppositions call for a view of people that recognizes both their being in the image of God and being fallen.  I believe that there are limits on what government can and should do.  I believe that the free market is generally more conducive to prosperity and distribution and enjoyment of resources.  I believe in freedom.  All of these beliefs and more are grounded in my being a Christian.  They propel me to favoring more conservative politics in our times.  (I identify as an unhappy Reagan Republican.)

I remember some years ago when a conservative and Christian (failed) political figure was calling for America to reclaim the Panama Canal.  For sure, I sided with Candidate Reagan on that issue in 1976. (His close ideologically conservative friend William F. Buckley, Jr. disagreed.)  I think there are sound reasons for arguing that the U. S. should never have relinquished control of the Canal and Canal Zone.  At the same time, I have not witnessed any apocalypse resulting from our ceding it back to Panama.  What is the Christian position on this issue?  I don’t find any of my Christian presuppositions endangered by giving up the Canal Zone.

Of course, not every issue is like that.  And while the Bible doesn’t list a program for government actions, I do believe that there are plenty of laws, admonitions, examples, broad themes, specific applications, and so on for Christians to appeal to in thinking about public policy.  There are both debatable issues and non-negotiables.

This book will not cause a conservative like me to repent, nor cause any who hold more liberal views to accept Christ.  But it does examine and weigh out many of the past issues.

This book is fine history.  Yes, I argued with the author at times.  Yes, I hung my head in embarrassment a few times as well.  Overall, I love the reading experience and hope to read it again and refer to it often.

 

Lexham Press’ Best of Christianity Today

 

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I was born in December of 1955 and Christianity Today first went out in October of 1956.  It would be many years before I gained even a shadowy awareness of the rise and travails of Evangelicalism within the Christian faith.  I was raised in the Bible Belt and most of my elementary teachers attended either the same Methodist Church I attended or went to Baptist churches in the community.  We prayed in school or at school events and the Christian undercurrents were still going strong.  In time, I became aware of a preacher named Billy Graham, mainly because his televised Crusades interrupted the regularly scheduled evening line-up of shows.

In my college years, 1974-1978, I became increasingly aware of the issues that had confronted Christians in previous decades and that were continuing to confront Christians.  Early on, I came to know enough well read, usually college educated, Christians so that I never believed or assumed that the mind and the faith were on different spheres.  My goodness, all it took was one struggling read through Gregg Singer’s Theological Interpretation of American History and R. J. Rushdoony’s This Independent Republic for me to embrace the powerful floodlight of the Calvinistic worldview.

At times, over the years I subscribed to Christianity Today.  My lapsed subscriptions were usually due to my paltry funds for magazines.  Also, I did not have easy access to the magazine in a library since public schools didn’t subscribe to many publications and certainly not a Christian one.

Along with my occasional reads from the magazine itself, I would hear and continue to hear about and read criticisms of the magazine.  Is it any wonder that a publication that seeks to speak for a large segment of professing Christians receives lots of criticism?

Most often in these times, I only hear about the magazine if something is published that outrages Christian conservatives or if an article appears that “we” really like.  The cover posted above highlights an outstanding article in the magazine by Dr. Louis Markos that praises the work of classical Christian education. As a teacher in a classical Christian school and as a fan of Dr. Markos, I loved the article.  There have probably been quite a few other articles that I would love, as well as some I would totally disagree with or just be indifferent to.  By the way, the conflicts related to Christianity Today are not new.  R. J. Rushdoony locked horns with the editors many decades ago when they published an article about William Faulkner.  And in this case, I respectfully and fearfully disagree with Rushdoony.

In the early decades of the magazine, the towering figures in the Evangelical world were being published in the magazine.  (Yes, in ever area, we always can enjoy sitting around complaining about kids nowadays and how the old days were better.)  Without creating or demanding theological conformity on every point, Christianity Today attracted lots of top notch Christian theologians, authors, and preachers who wrote fine articles addressing current issues with ancient wisdom.

Lexham Press has been wooing and winning my heart for several years now with their publications of great works by some of those amazing Dutchmen such as Geerhardus Vos, Abraham Kuyper, and Groen van Prinsterer.  If that was all that they published, I would be plenty happy with them.  (And even happier when the day comes when I buy the entire set of Kuyper’s works.) But they keep doing more and more.  I feel like a young theology student in Geneva during the days of Calvin and Farel. (Besides having many good pastor/theologians to listen to daily on podcasts/morning sermons, the printing presses were going non-stop in that town.)

One of the most attractive, irresistible, and enduring series of late is called Best of Christianity Today.  

First came Christ the Cornerstone: Collected Essay of John Stott.

Alongside of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott was one of the greatest preachers and writers on Christian theology in the British Isles and across the English speaking world during the Twentieth Century.  I have probably a dozen or more of his books, but not near all of them.  He was solid in theology, a fine writer and stylist, and a powerful communicator.  As with everyone (except me), there are errors or glitches in his theological understanding, but the man was a giant. And while quite learned and educator, he was not a theologian who wrote for theologians.  He was a pastor, first to those within earshot and then to those who read or still read his works.

Second in the series is Architect of Evangelicalism: Essential Essays of Carl F. H. Henry.

Carl F. H. Henry was never the effective, easy communicator that Stott was.  But he was regularly regarded as being one of the serious heavyweights and key intellectual Christian thinkers of his times.  Like his teacher Gordon Clark and like some of his contemporaries, such as Rushdoony, Francis Schaeffer, and Henry Van Til, Henry taught lots of Christians how to think, how to expand their minds beyond church issues, and how to confront cultural and philosophical issues of the times.

Henry’s main work is a massive six volume set called God, Revelation, and Authority.  Few will be those hearty enough to plow through the volumes.  In fact, one admirer said of Henry, “It is too bad that no one has translated his works into English.” (An obscure joke since he wrote in English.) For a time, it seemed as those interest in Carl Henry faded away, but I detect a renewed interest in our times.  Gregory Alan Thornbury’s Recovering Classic Evangelicalism:  Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry awakened my interest in him several years ago and sent me scurrying to my library to rediscover several read and unread volumes I owned.

Any book that is highlighting the writing of the giants of the past, even the recent past, are a blessing to the Christian community.

The third volume in the “Best of Christianity Today” series is Basics of the Faith: An Evangelical Introduction to Christian Doctrine, edited by Dr. Henry.

This volume is a collection of articles by a host of authors who constitute the “Who’s Who of Evangelicalism” of the 1950s and 1960s.  Contributors include Philip E. Hughes, John Murray, Cornelius Van Til, F. F. Bruce, J. I. Packer, and many more.  While not a systematic theology, the essays cover a series of topics one would find in ST.

The key benefit in this book, as well as the series, is that these are relatively short essays.  Many readers are daunted by heavy books, long chapters, and the high mountain ranges of theological and Christian study.  But we can all read an article, an essay.  Of course, no short essay can cover the vastness of a topic, but we are finite.  The magazine and these writers were speaking to the Christian community.  You will likely dislike the fluffy Christian books as much as I do. You may break out into a sweat or hives when trying to negotiate with the contents of a serious, somber, searching theologian who is assuming that you have attended as many seminary courses as he or she has.

Here is the middle ground.  Add to that, these books are beautifully hardback works that adorn the shelf as well as fill the mind.  And for those of you who like, and I hate to say it, there are digital copies availabe to adorn your digital devices.

Great series.  Must haves.  Easy accessible reads.  Admirable authors.  Lovely bindings.  Thank you Lexham Press for this publishing venture.

 

New Year Morning Reads–2020

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I recommend my method of reading for only one person:  Me.  It might work for you, but most likely, everyone will find their better times, places, and selections that suit their style and needs.  But for me and for the present, this is how I am doing my morning reading time.  I am also using this as a way of promoting some of the all-too-many review books that I need to read, review, promote, and share.

One of my resolves for 2020 is to read and use more Bible commentaries.  Since I left the pulpit, I have largely ignored commentaries on the books of the Bible. Even when I was preaching, I was often hastening through a commentary more in search of a quick fix to my pulpit inadequacies than in growing in Bible understanding.  Amos, Jonah, & Micah is by JoAnna M. Hoyt and is published by Lexham Press.

This is a massive book and is a part of the Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (EEC) series edited by Wayne House.  Twelve volumes are currently available in this series.

I am studying the last part of this commentary–the Book of Micah.  I determined to read it from beginning to end and that meant plowing through the technical and background information.  Did I enjoy that part?  Not much, but I agree with what Matthew Kim said in his book titled A Little Book for New Preachers (IVP).  He says that the preacher must immerse himself in the background and setting of the book.

I am now going slowly through the commentary portion of Micah, chapter 1.  Small bits of study each day so far.  It will take a while, but I am determined.

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Reformed Ethics: Created, Fallen, and Converted Humanity by Herman Bavinck and edited by John Bolt is published by Baker Publishing Group.

I was so excited when this volume finally came out.  I was even more excited when my copy arrived.  And then…it sat on the shelf, it got covered up by other books, it enjoyed only a passing glance or two.  In my feeble defense, I did plug away at the background information, usually on Sunday mornings.

A second resolve I have this year is to read the longer and weightier books that often get started, but never finished.  I like the thought of getting a 5 books read instead of 1.  For that, I must repent and change.

Now that I am into this book, I am truly enjoying it.

Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization by Samuel Gregg is published by Regnery.

This is the kind of book I love.  It is a survey of history, philosophy, and theology that all tends toward an apologetic defense of the Christian worldview I embrace, teach, and read about.

The gist of this book is a refutation of a long-standing trope that reason contradicts faith.  Along with that is the notion that faith is a heart and emotion based feeling while reason is spawned by the mind.  Of course, Christianity gets jabbed in the process.

Building upon the work of men in the past like Christopher Dawson and Herman Dooyeweerd, echoing works like Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? and R. J. Rushdoony’s The One and the Many, this book reclaims Western Civilization and its accomplishments.  The thought patterns of the West built upon Greek and Roman heritage in part, but even those civilizations had to be filtered through the lenses of Christendom.

Today, I was reading the portions of the book about Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon.  Like any short treatment, more can be said, but we have to be grounded in the grammar of the subjects before we can delve more deeply.

America and the Just War Tradition: A History of U. S. Conflicts is edited by Mark David Hall and J. Daryl Charles.  It is published by the University of Notre Dame Press.

Here is another case of combined loves.  This book deals with American history, particularly the wars that have been waged, and it is written from a Christian perspective that examines the Just War Theory.

I recently discovered Mark Hall’s scholarship and writing as a result of reading Did America Have a Christian Founding?  Determined to read more of his writings, I discovered this book.

I am still in the introductory essay which Hall and Charles wrote.  This is good, but slow going.  More details later.

Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans by Robert Elmer is also published by Lexham Press.

I reviewed this book a few days ago.  I try to read only a page or two of it with the hope of making the Puritan prayers my own.

The Hanging God: Poems and The Fortunes of Poetry in the Age of Our Unmaking are both by James Matthew Wilson, one of America’s premier contemporary poets.  The Hanging God is published by Wiseblood Books, and The Fortunes of Poetry is published by Angelico Press.

I am reading these two works for a number of reasons beyond just my responsibilities as a book reviewer.  I am using these two works as therapy so that I can recover from the often disastrous graduate course I took in the fall on poetry and literary criticism.  Let us just say that the study of literature is in danger in the modern secular universities, assuming that my experience was common and not unique.

The Fortunes of Poetry is tough reading at many points, so I suspect that I will need to re-read portions or get instruction from someone named Wilson on how to assimilate the information.

Note to blog readers:  Please don’t speculate that I am neglecting the foundational parts of morning reading:  The Bible and strong coffee.  The Book of Common Prayer is also being kept close at hand so that this Presbyterian who is a member of a Baptist church will be a better Anglican. (Thank you Zachary Jones.)

Also, thanks to my sister-in-law Toni Lemley who gave me the coffee cup with the old pickup truck on it.  I am not going to stop using it just because Christmas is nearly over. I also got a wonderful picture of old pickup trucks from my other sister-in-law Marla Robert.

 

Favorite Histories Read in 2019

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Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War by James McGrath Morris

Here is a good example of why I don’t post the best books of the year in December:  This was one of the last books I read this year.  Outstanding account of two 20th Century American writers.  They met during World War I when both were serving as ambulance drivers.  For several years, Dos Passos was the successful and published writer who was helping out a young Hemingway.

Over the years, their friendship ripened, and both men published a number of books.  Hemingway surged in fame and fortune.  Dos Passos received the accolades of the literary establishment, but little by way of book royalties.  Hemingway, being generous as he often was, gave and loaned money to his friend who also married one of Hemingway’s life-long friends, Katy Smith.

Hemingway being Hemingway, he came to the point where he despised and slashed at his literary companion.  He could not stand the fact that Dos Passos got more appreciation from the very crowds that Hemingway hated–literary reviewers.  Like most things that EH touched, this friendship turned ugly before he killed himself.

I really wish this book had added another fifty or more pages detailing Dos Passos’s turn from the Leftist thinking to Conservatism.  The Spanish Civil War opened his eyes, even as it blinded Hemingway’s vision.  I love much about Hemingway, but he was vicious, nasty, cruel, self-centered, and more.  I lament not having read enough by and about John Dos Passos, his peer who is rarely regarded in these times but who was often viewed as EH’s superior in their times.

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Hitler and the Habsburgs: The Fuhrer’s Vendetta Against the Austrian Royals by James Longo

I mentioned having seen this book at Books-A-Million one day while teaching Humanities.  Later that same day, Joshua Carnes showed up in my classroom and handed the book to me.

What an outstanding book!  The Habsburgs are rarely regarded or thought of.  Francis Ferdinand is usually relegated to the brief discussion of the immediate outbreak of World War I.  I never knew that Hitler had any vendetta against the family.  Of course, it comes as no surprise that Adolf sought to harm the children of Francis Ferdinand and his wife Sophia, both slain in the summer of 1914.

This is a sad story of a devote Christian family, oppressed and tortured, who nevertheless maintained faith and dignity.  (I reviewed this book last February.)

Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood that Helped Turn the Tide of War by Lynn Olson

Outstanding study of how the countries conquered by Hitler continued their resistance from the sole outpost of freedom–Great Britain.  So much here was new to me, in spite of a lifetime of reading on World War II.  So many unsung heroes and heroines.  Reviewed in March under the title “World War II in Books.” I am now a collector of anything that Lynn Olson has written.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liberty in the Things of God by Robert Louis Wilkin

Outstanding study of the development of Christian liberty of conscience.  I really loved this book.  Worth reading again and again.  Vital due to our lack of understanding of religious freedom and the misconceptions that assume that such freedom is the product of unbelievers.

Reviewed in May.

The British are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 by Rick Atkinson

The British are Coming, Volume 1 of the Revolution Trilogy by Rick Atkinson

I loved Rick Atkinson’s trilogy on World War II, love this book, and look forward to the next two volumes.  I must confess that my greatest comfort in reading this account of the American War for Independence came from knowing how the story ends.  In the midst of this book, I kept thinking, “We are going to lose this war.”

Sand & Steel: The D-Day Invasion and the Liberation of France by Peter Caddick-Adams

Lengthy, detailed study of the preparation and execution of the Normandy invasion. Review written in August.

This year was the 75th anniversary of the greatest military invasion in all of history:  The D-Day Normandy Landings in France on June 6, 1944.  This account was incredibly packed with both big picture explanations of the events along with the up close and personal accounts of those who were there.

I am sold on this author/historian which resulted in me buying his equally lengthy book on the Battle of the Bulge, titled Snow and Steel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christian and a Democrat: A Religious Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt by John F. Woolverton and James D. Bratt

Review written in September.

As expected, my favorable review of this book garnered me a few criticisms from my normally adoring public following.  Conservatives so dislike FDR that many cannot pause long enough to give him credit for anything.  I enjoyed this detailed, but still inadequate account of FDR the man and his faith.  Was he truly a Christian?  I am not sure that is a question for historians.  He was not shallow in regard to his faith commitment.  He had a life-long attachment to Christianity, was a long-time and faithful church member, was vocal about his beliefs, and was spiritually minded on the personal level and not just for political purposes.

His faith was diluted by the social gospel and more liberal elements then in vogue.  His life was concerning because of some of the moral failings.  Still, this is a good study of a complex and great man.

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Did America Have a Christian Founding? By Mark David Hall

Review written in November.

How delightful the discover of this book has been.  I became Facebook friends with Dr. Hall and have entered on the quest of obtaining and reading every book he has written or edited.  The topic of this book is one that I have long read and studied.  But, if I had only one book to read and consider on this topic, this would be the one.

The issue here is vital.  Like the Achaians and the Trojans battling over the slain body of Patroclus in The Iliad, our culture has been fighting over the role of Christianity in our history and culture for a long time.  By the way, Protestants have done some stupid things along the way, and those actions are recounted in this book.  Myths are presented and documented and then dealt with forcefully by that old sly trick of historians–going to the sources.

America's Religious History - By: Thomas S. Kidd

America’s Religious History: Faith, Politics, and the Shaping of a Nation by Thomas Kidd

Shame on me here.  I did read and enjoy this book, but I really should have completed my homework assignment and read the two volume American History by Dr. Kidd published by B & H Publishers.

I have long wanted to find a better American history survey than the one I use in my classes.  And Thomas Kidd is one of the brightest and most prolific stars on the stage of Christian historians.  I have a number of his books and am intent on getting and reading all of his works.

I did read this short history of religious faith in America.  On the one hand, Sidney Ahlstrom’s book, A Religious History of the American People,  has some advantages over this book.  However, Ahlstrom’s book is massive and much older; it is great for a long, serious study of the issue.  The strength of Kidd’s book is its brevity.  Many times, I was shouting “More, More!”  But I was often coming across ideas, people, and beliefs I had never heard of.  I would love to use this book as required supplemental reading for a college American history survey.

Reviewed briefly in “When Religion Meets History and Philosophy” in November.

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The Soul of the American Presidency:  The Decline Into Demagoguery and the Prospects for Renewal by Stephen Knott

Excellent read that I reviewed just a week ago in December.

I wish I could say something deep, scholarly, and profound, but I will have to fall back on this response:  I thoroughly enjoyed and loved this book.  I read lots of politically related books and teach government.  I have studied Presidents ever since the election of 1964, in which I was–unknowingly–for the wrong candidate.

Did I agree with Stephen Knott at every step?  No way, but I found many things to reconsider, to re-enforce, and to reconfigure ways of thinking about the Presidents.  His heroes include some Presidents I find less lovable.  His villains include some of my heroes.  That was part of the fun, accompanied by pain, in reading this book.

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The Darkest Year: The American Homefront 1941-1942 by William Klingman

Fascinating and heavily anecdotal account of the wild and chaotic year after the U. S. entered World War II. How in the world did we ever win the war? Hundred of anecdotal details about the first year of America’s involvement in World War II.

Reviewed this book in May.

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