Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man

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Watching television and movies keeps you from reading books.  Reading novels keeps you from reading serious non-fiction.  Non-fiction keeps you from reading theology.  Theology keeps you from reading the Bible.  Watching plays and reading dramas keep you from reading poetry.  Shorter poems keep you from reading epic poems.  Epic poems keep you from reading Plato and Aristotle.  Reading Plato and Aristotle keep you from reading….fill in the blank.

We are finite and busy and slow at reading, so whatever we are doing is keeping us from doing something equally good or better.  We are not only finite and limited, but we are all artistically inclined.  We are all users, admirers, and developers of art and artistic creations.  Some of the arts we deal with are such things as the finely finished report, the good meal, the freshly mown lawn, the washed and ironed clothes, the long studied and delivered lecture or sermon, or the pleasing hummed tune.

God looked on creation and said, “It is good.”  Even when our own creations are mediocre or even bad, we have the built-in apparatus to look on what we have done and say the same.  God has wired us to see art (connect that word to artisan and craftsman and not just painters) and order.  God has also wired us to comprehend, interpret, and think about art.  The wrestling fan who says, “Boy, that was a good fight,” is interpreting an art exhibit in a fashion similar to the art critic who comments upon Rembrandt’s use of shadows.

We can not do all the things we want and need to do.  And what we actually do is a series of artistic efforts and interpretations.

But let’s slow up a bit here and focus upon just a couple of things:  Science fiction, science fiction movies and television, and C. S. Lewis.  Here too is a door to a universe more wonderful and vast than we have imagined.  I say that as one who would not prefer science fiction or fantasy (which are two different genres) in books or movies.  But I am a C. S. Lewis fan.  On the one hand, I have done quite well in collecting most, but not all, of Lewis’ books, but then comes the books written about Lewis, including biographies, but more than just that.  Lewis was a wide-ranging and first class thinker whose ideas–including theological and philosophical as well as literary ideas–have impacted a wide range of disciplines.

The book Science Fiction and the Abolition of Man:  Finding C. S. Lewis in Sci-Fi Film and Television is edited by Mark J. Boone and Kevin C. Neece.  It was published this year by Pickwick Publications, a branch of Wipf and Stock Publishers.  It has a forward by Brian Godawa, who is something on the order of the Reformed theologian of movies.  Re-reading Godawa’s essay today convinced me even so of his knack for teaching us to view film as a worldview tool.  He writes, “Science fiction as a genre is most often an argument for or against current ideas or worldviews by showing their ultimate ends lived out in the future.”

Great statement.  While there is “nothing wrong” with just sitting back and enjoying a movie, it is just not possible.  Every film, like ever book or song, is presenting some sort of vision of reality or of ultimate things or of moral truths.  This is why we in the Christian school business have to keep honing in on the idea of worldview thinking.

The first chapter of the book is titled “Finding C. S. Lewis in Science Fiction Film and Television.”  The hook for me, however, is that this essay is written by co-editor Mark Boone.  Dr. Boone is part of an expanding universe of Christian thinkers who are carving niches in every area of academic life.  God is doing an intellectual Reformation in our age, whether the greater body of believers and the vast masses of unbelievers see it or not.  Boone’s first book is a study of Augustine, titled The Conversion and Therapy of Desire: Augustine’s Theology of Desire in the Cassiciacum Dialogues.  When I was studying this book last summer, I concluded two things:  First, this is a first rate study that is not a fast read, and second, Mark Boone is serious.

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Serious, however, does not mean grave, somber, and solemn with no application to folks that don’t dwell in safe academic zones.  (The hidden humor of that remark is that Boone spent the last year teaching somewhere in the Middle East.)  So, this book appeals to a broader crowd that still wants to think.  In this case, it involves a cross discipline jaunt:  C. S. Lewis’ short book The Abolition of Man and science fiction films.  Lewis’ little classic could be used in a number of courses and discussions, including education, literature, history, ethics, current culture, pop culture, and, of course, science fiction.  The case is made stronger by the fact that Lewis wrote some science fiction, his Space Trilogy.

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My biggest hindrance was lack of knowledge of most of the films.  I was familiar with one show, Person of Interest.  Artur Skweres wrote the essay titled “Between the Good and the Evil Samaritan: Person of Interest in Light of C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man.”  I love that show and read the essay twice, but I don’t agree with it.  That is okay in a book of thought provoking essays.  I did realize that I was watching the show way too passively and have tried to be more alert to the deeper messages.  Skweres concerns about the workings of Mr. Finch and Mr. Reese may be right on target, and I may be wrong.  That is what is fun about these discussions.

Several chapters in the book are about the ever popular television series and subsequent films known as Star Trek.  Never watched either!  But I could benefit from sitting through a few hours of both so that upon rereading, the essays resonate with me.

Many of the films discussed are older.  As Brian Godawa points out, they are nearly all accessible now.  The issues, the ethical dilemmas and worldview confrontations, are old as well, and yet they are all throughly relevant and on the cutting edge.

Don’t try to read this book through from cover to cover (as I did–with a long break between the halves of the book). Read the foreward and first chapter.  Then read any chapters that pertain to movies you know.  Then use the other chapters to locate movies and read the chapters both before and after the film viewings.

With a group of interested folks–whether students in a class or a reading group–this could be a really fun book.

 

Rembrandt and the Bible Combined

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The Return of the Prodigal Son, an oil painting by Rembrandt

I love bargains.  Love getting two objects for the price of one.  I am constantly hunting for ways to save money, especially when pursuing the great white Book Sale (an allusion to Moby Dick).  But I also love when I can learn two things at once.  Given my own difficulties in learning one thing and given that “time’s winged chariots” (an illusion to the poem “To His Coy Mistress”) I am doubly challenged here, but also doubly blessed when it happens.

This is one of the reasons I really enjoy Daniel Silva’s spy/espionage/adventure novel series about Gabriel Allon.  First of all, Allon is an art restorer by trade.  Each novel includes bits and pieces about his work in restoring fine pieces of art in churches across Europe and in his various studios.  But each restoration work gets interrupted by his other profession, which is in the Israeli intelligence community.

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Each book reveals some aspect of art, artists, art history, art thievery, and art restoration.  My grasp of the great artists is dangerously deficient, so I benefit from these details which play varying roles in the plot development.  (You might reckon that a book with the title The Rembrandt Affair deals with art.)  Along with the art lessons, I always pick up details about Israel, the Middle East, terrorism, counter-terrorism, and a host of other points relating to current world events.  Of course, it is the page-turning action that provides the main motivation for reading these books.  But, I do get two and maybe three benefits for the price of reading one book.

Recently, I was reading James V. Schall’s book Remembering Belloc.  Here is another “two for one” bargain and a treasure to boot.  First of all, Father Schall’s writings are always a delight and full of fun and wisdom.  Then his topic is Hilaire Belloc, who was an amazingly prolific writer of history, travelogues, poetry, and other topics.  Schall picks details from essays and themes from Belloc’s many works and restates Belloc’s points in his own manner.  Of course, while reading this book, I am wanting to put it down and read Belloc, but Schall himself is too good.

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Father Schall is always dropping hints, throwing out quotes, giving reading lists, and alluding to favorite authors in his writings.  You are always getting a grab bag full of new books to locate (most of which are actually old books) and authors to elevate to the “must read” stage.

This same “two for one” benefit can be found in reading any number of good writers, especially those who are great stylists.  I will never forget reading a Spurgeon lecture I disagreed with, but love because of how well it is written.  The histories and biographies of such authors as Max Hastings, Rick Atkinson, Bradley Birzer, and Paul Johnson are always UNSATISFYING, because when you read them, you automatically want to read more from the author and about the subject.

This past year, I read a book titled The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri J. M. Nouwen.  This was definitely a “two for one” bargain.

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First of all, Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic, writes in the tradition of great Christian works of meditation.  No doubt he held to theological positions that I would rank anywhere from disagreeable to deplorable, but that is not relevant to the content of this book.  This book is about thinking spiritually about the story of the Prodigal Son.  It is, we might say, a Bible commentary or extended sermon on that event.  Being in the tradition of pietistic meditative works, such as On the Imitation of Christ and The Golden Book of the Christian Life (excerpted from Calvin’s Institutes), the book calls not for a mental connecting of theological dots, but for a heart-centered, soul-searching examination.

Second, the book is about the beautiful and rich painting by the Dutch Master Rembrandt titled The Return of the Prodigal Son (1661-1669).  I usually look at great paintings and respond with the profoundly insightful comment, “That’s real purty.”  (Let the reader understand:  For Southerners, “pretty” is an adjective, as in “I’m pretty hungry for biscuits and gravy,” while “purty” means having the quality of beauty.)

I know enough about art to know that the works of the Great Masters, such as da Vinci, Raphael, Vermeer, and others are great art.  I have enough understanding to appreciate what Jan van Eyck, Pieter Brughel, and others from the Dutch and Flemish Renaissance accomplished.  I can even recognize and enjoy the works of Vincent Van Gogh (especially after Don McClean’s song “Vincent”) and Manet (one of whose paintings I have a reprint of and use in class).  I even try to restrain myself when trying to figure out the message of Picasso’s works, and I have grown to better understand Gaugin’s “Whence, What, Where?” as the “stupid bird” says.

And I know that Rembrandt is a big name.  But I still struggle to get past the “That’s real purty” stage to being able to appreciate and internalize the works.  Then along comes Henri Nouwen and his book The Return of the Prodigal Son.  Nouwen loved the painting and received a print of it which he put in his office.  And he looked at it–often, a lot, and for long periods of time.  And he thought about it and meditated on it.

Nouwen brings the Bible and the work of art together in his meditations.  Step by step, he works through each portrait that appears in the painting, and there are six of them.  He considers them in the light of the brief details from the parable and then sees himself (enabling me to see myself) in each figure.  Love, sorrow, pain, repentance, mercy, wisdom, confusion, and a host of other emotions and reactions occur in this one setting.  Painted in his latter years, Rembrandt was biblical, autobiographical, and deliberate in his placement of every detail and in the more prominent or more subdued brush strokes in the painting.

Nouwen’s work is a great example of the Lectio Divina approach to Bible study and meditation.  It is also useful in realizing how to approach art.  Eugene Peterson’s book Eat This Book aptly prescribes this method of Bible reading.  (I have read Peterson’s book twice, I think, and need about 79 more readings of it.)

Recently, a new hardback twenty-fifth anniversary edition of The Return of the Prodigal has been published by Convergent Press. Not only does this really nice book include the original, but it also includes a second Nouwen work titled Home Tonight.  I highly recommend this work.  It will be a blessing to heart, mind, and the senses.  It is great for morning study, with a Bible and cup of coffee at hand.  It is a book that I am not satisfied with by having read only once.

Also, the same publisher has another Nouwen book titled Love, Henri:  The Letters on The Spiritual Life by Nouwen.  Nouwen is well known for having given up a position in academia to minister in a home for special needs people.  He, himself, was far from perfect, but was a fine stylist in terms of writing and provides much that is engaging for the reader.

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Other books on art that I have read or acquired along life’s byways:

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Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible.  Short and by a non-specialist, this book is amazingly helpful for Christians.

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The picture is of an older edition of H. R. Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture.  This is THE book for Christians to study.  Rookmaaker is THE art critic for Christians to read.

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Anything Paul Johnson writes about is worthy, but art was his original call and interest.  Art: A New History is a big book by Johnson and only one of several he has done on art.  (Alas, I don’t have the others.)

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I have Rembrandt’s Eyes by Simon Schama, but have not read it.  Schama is another case of a fine historian whose original expertise is in art.  I want every book Schama has written and would not mind having all his video productions as well.

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I recently acquired Essential History of Art.  It fits into the broad category of art histories and coffee table books.  I found it for a small price, and it looks to be a good primer on the subject.

Vasari’ Lives of the Artists has been around for years.  I acquired a decent copy some time back.  It is a minor classic in its field, although dated, and worth having for reading and reference.

Frank on the Prairie–And Being 12 Years Old Again

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I was recently listening to a cassette tape  from the Easy Chair series that R. J. Rushdoony did, often with Otto Scott.  In this talk, Otto Scott commented on Homer’s Odyssey, saying, “When I read The Odyssey, I am a twelve year boy old again.”  I loved that comment, even though I did not read and love Homer’s epics until much later.  For me, it is such books as Jesse Stuart’s Hie to the Hunters  that recreates that feeling.  There were other books I loved such as Smokey–The Cow Horse by Will James and The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be by Farley Mowat.

Also, every time I teach through The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I find myself wishing I could sneak out the window of the classroom and go join Tom and Huck on Jackson Island and play pirates all day.

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A few years back, my son Nate and I enjoyed reading Scout: The Secret of the Swamp by Piet Prins.  Published by Inheritance Press, out of Canada, this series told of the adventures of a young boy and his German Shepherd dog Scout.  In spite of being a German Shepherd, Scout is totally committed to the Dutch people and the Christian family he is a part of.  Inheritance Press publisher Roelof Jannsen brilliantly published this book along with his catalog together.  It led to several good book purchases, including more volumes of the Scout Series.

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The book with a hook. Read it and you will want all of the series.

You might be surprised that I grew up in a home that did not have many books.  I only randomly and haphazardly picked up hints and helps as to what to read.  In our house, we had lots of old Reader’s Digest magazines, along with Texas Horseman magazines, and we had a copy of a book called None Dare Call It Treason, which always seemed scary to me.  I did check out books from the school library, but never read the Hardy Boys, any Henty books, Edgar Rice Burroughs, or other authors I should have digested before I went to high school.

Long life and a desire to learn calls for frequent repentance and acts of penance.  While I have acquired a decent amount of book smarts, there are still so many authors I barely know and book titles I may not recognize.  We won’t even begin to think about books I read that should be read again.

I recently received a beautiful little book titled Frank on the Prairie by Harry Castlemon with additional illustrations by Charles M. Russell.  The book is published by one of my favorite sources–the University of Oklahoma Press.

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The University of Oklahoma Press website states that they publish scholarly books, “especially Native American studies, classics, natural history, and regional interest titles.”  That is certainly true, and I have enjoyed many of the classical studies and the Campaigns and Commanders series, which has over 50 current volumes with more to come.

But they also publish books that the average reader, who has no academic pursuit in mind, can read and enjoy.  A few months back, I reviewed Horseback Schoolmarm, Montana 1953-1954, which I and my wife both thoroughly enjoyed.

Frank On The Prairie is also going to be a fun book.  (I am still early into it.)  It is a reprint (the original book came out in 1869) of an author of adventure books for boys named Harry Castlemon, who was the most popular author of boys adventure books in the late 1800s .  The review on the website says this:

The prolific author of the novel Frank on the Prairie, Charles Austin Fosdick (1842–1915), who went by the pen name Harry Castlemon, was one of Russell’s favorite storytellers. Castlemon’s book, which first appeared in 1868 as part of the Gunboat Series of Books for Boys, recounts the adventures of young Frank and his friend Archie as they travel across the Old West.

Charles Austin Fosdick, who wrote under the name Harry Castlemon

In this case, there was a boy named Austin whose uncle was Charles M. Russell, the man who was one of the greatest artists of the Old West.  Russell was also a fan and collector of Castleman’s “Frank Series” (there were at least 9 books about Frank).  Uncle Charles borrowed Austin’s book and later returned it with eleven watercolors and a pencil sketch detailing events in the book.

Western artist Charles M. Russell

I find myself astounded and in awe of that.  You see, I don’t really like loaning books unless the borrower is as careful as I am.  I sure don’t like when they mark up the book or do things to it.  (I don’t even want them to let sunlight get to it.)  But this would be like loaning a book of poetry to C. S. Lewis and having him return it with notes in it.  Or loaning a book on World War II to Churchill and him marking the places where he was present in the story.

This book is a great adventure story.  After all, if you have two young boys who are heading out west–the book depends heavily on Francis Parkman’s Oregon Trail–and the book is not adventurous, then you ain’t no writer!

Add to that, the greatest artist of the Old West just happens to enhance the book with illustrations.  It just doesn’t get much better than this.  This fine book has been published now–illustrations and all–in a beautiful, facsimile hardcover edition.  This is a book for collectors, lovers of the Old West, lovers of boys adventure stories, and lovers of fine books.

Yea, it is not being given away, but it would be a great investment for any book lover and would be a great gift to young people who need some good reading.  It would also be good for all of us who want to feel like we are twelve again.

Proceeds from the book will go to the C. M. Russell Museum–The Art and Soul of the Old West in Great Falls, Montana.

Postscript:  Harry Castlemon wrote,  “Boys don’t like fine literature. What they want is adventure, and the more of it you can get in two-hundred-fifty pages of manuscript, the better fellow you are.”

Best Histories of 2016

 

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April has arrived and I have failed to create a list of the 10 Ten Books of the past year (2016).  This has always been a big event in my otherwise sedentary life.  This causes me to have to get up, walk to the shelves, look up and down the rows, and remember what I have read.  Sometimes I even have to pace the floor thinking through which books were best.

I used to number the list 1 to 10.  Then authors began craving the higher ratings and jealousies ensued when someone was beat out of 3rd place by Tolstoy or some other contender.  Also, I never was sure why one book was number 5 while another was number 9.  I just know that I really enjoyed them.

In this post, I will highlight some of the really good, even best, history readings from the past year.  I will try to follow up with other categories, including theology, classics, and popular fiction.

BEST HISTORIES FEATURING WIDE SCOPES OF EVENTS

How the West Was Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity by Rodney Stark

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It is with no little bit of professional jealousy that I admit that Rodney Stark is one of the best cultural historians around today.  Dr. Stark is an academic in both training and profession, but his field of specialization is sociology.  Yet his histories–with lots of focus on Christianity and religious beliefs–each keep knocking the ratings in terms of accomplishment.  Maybe it is exercising judgment out of the normal bounds that enables him to speak with such authority and write with such boldness.  The only other historian I rank alongside Rodney Stark is the Englishman Paul Johnson.

This particular book, which is one of more than a half dozen Stark titles, resets and recasts the typical assumptions regarding Western Civilization.  This book is a clarion call against the tenets of modernity, post-modernity, political correctness, post-Enlightenment education, and Christian squeamishness.  The book is chocked full of bibliographical selections just in case one is thinking that Stark is creating his own reality.

The War of the World by Niall Ferguson.

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War of the World:  Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West needs to be viewed and read in the context of other fine histories by Scotsman Niall Ferguson.  His books are weighty and often focused on economic aspects of history.  By training and inclination, Ferguson is an economic historian.  But unlike the trends of economic historians of the past century, he is totally free from Marxist interpretations of economics or human nature.

If someone wants to read of the epic battles and brave soldiers of the two world wars, avoid this book.  Look instead to the works of John Keegan, Max Hastings, and Rick Atkinson.  But if one wishes to read of the greater political, social, cultural, and economic forces that plunged the western world into a really long destructive 20th century war–lasting from 1914 to 1945 with a rest break in between–read this book.

Ferguson’s other outstanding histories include Civilization: The West and the Rest, The Ascent of Money, and Empire.

Honorable Mention

To Hell and Back by Ian Kershaw

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To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 by Ian Kershaw (who was written a multi-volume biography of Hitler) is a part of the Penguin History of Europe.  The whole series is quite good and includes works by some skilled historians.  Kershaw’s book covers lots of the same territory as Ferguson’s book, but he includes quite a bit of information about the often ignored areas of eastern Europe.  Sometimes, we are prone to think of the world wars as involving only the half dozen bigger powers.  The coverage of other areas reminded me of how little I know of European history.

BEST CHRISTIAN CHURCH HISTORIES

The Crisis in Evangelical Christianity by Keith Sewell

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I became acquainted with Dr. Keith Sewell several years ago through a web-site focusing on Christian philosophy.  I kept up with him after he retired from teaching history at Dordt College in Iowa and moved to Australia.  Since then I have read articles he has written on historical issues and have read from his work on historian Herbert Butterfield.  It can be a bit awkward when you read and then are expected to review a book by a friend (even one who is a friend only via e-mail, hence an e-friend).  I was not just relieved, but quite excited when I read this book.

This study is a good survey of the strengths and weaknesses of Evangelical Christianity.  Dr. Sewell writes as one who has not only lived in various countries in the English-speaking world, but who has been open toward various Christian experiences.  He is, like me, basically Reformed in background and theology.  There are more than a few high water marks and accomplishments for evangelicalism.  But there are failures and weaknesses as well.  In short, this book surveys the history.  It is outstanding as an overview, a refresher course, and a starting point for evaluating where we Christians have been and where we ought to go.

The Church: A Theological and Historical Account by Gerald Bray

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I read The Church: A Theological and Historical Account by Gerald Bray soon after finishing Sewell’s book.  Although there is some overlap, the two works complement each other quite well.  Bray covers a wider expanse of time.  He begins with the church in the Bible and then traces the various eras through history.  But this book is not just another church history survey.  The strength is his theological analysis of the role and function of the church.

This book sold me on itself and the author.

BEST REFORMATION HISTORY

Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George June

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This being 2017, there are already many books coming out that are celebrating and analyzing the lives and theology of the Protestant Reformation.  (In case you forgot, Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door in October of 1517, so this year is the 500th anniversary of that event.)  Along with the new books, we cannot neglect the outstanding scholarship and thrilling accounts of the Reformers that were written earlier.

Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George came out over 25 years ago.  How did I miss it through all the years?  I have read and collected books on the Reformation since 1974.  In my small pond, I think of myself as somewhat well informed on that time period.  This book, however, opened my eyes wider than they have been opened before.  Most of the account is predictable in terms of major subjects:  Luther, Calvin, Melancthon, Knox, the English Reformation, and the Anabaptists.  The biographical stories are included, but the main strength is the analysis of the theologies of the different arms of the Reformation.

BEST CHRISTIAN BIOGRAPHY

George Whitefield : America’s Spiritual Founding Father by Thomas S. Kidd February-March

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Thomas Kidd is a rising force in Christian history.  In spite of his relative youthfulness (and having the last name of Kidd), he is no novice.  A professor of history at Baylor Univesity, Kidd is pumping out a wide range of books on topics relating to Christian history, most of which are centered on American history.  Even this biography, titled George Whitefield–America’s Spiritual Founding Father, while covering the life of an English preacher is largely focused on Whitefield’s many experiences in the American colonies.

Arnold Dallimore’s older two volume biography is more inspiring.  In the Banner of Truth tradition, it aims to both educate and inspire.  This book is much more scholarly and analytical.  But don’t think that this is simply head-knowledge with no heart.  Good history can teach while instructing in righteousness.  Sometimes that instruction is from the positive example of a tireless evangelist like Whitefield, and sometimes it is from the negative instruction from his own failures.

I am slowly collecting all of Dr. Kidd’s books.  He is a historian to watch and read.

BEST NON-EUROPEAN, NON-AMERICAN HISTORY…OR BEST MIDDLE EAST HISTORY

A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin

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This book–A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East–was an unusual find.  I picked it up used for a dollar.  I really questioned myself for staring to read it due to its length–570 pages.  While reading it, I found myself continually confused and sometimes lost because the names of Middle Eastern, particularly Turkish, leaders are unfamiliar.  Some events, like World War I, were familiar, but much of the information was new to me.

But all along the way, I kept realizing how informative, well written this book is.  It is not a one-time read for me.  Even I did not realize how much I did not know about how the modern Middle Eastern countries were formed.  Finishing this book left me strongly desiring to know more, to read more about this same area of history, and to read this very book again.

David Fromkin is a good author.  Some years ago, I really enjoyed his book Europe’s Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?  He is moving up in the ranks of favored historians on my list.

BEST BOOK ON READING, WRITING, AND INTERPRETING HISTORY

Christian Historiography: Five Views by Jay D. Green

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Christian Historiography: Five Rival Versions by Jay D. Green made me want to go back to the starting blocks in the study of history.  This is one of the best books I have ever read on what history itself is and how it should be studied by Christians.  On the one hand, it includes lots of references and works by some of the best Christian historians, such as Kenneth Scott Latourette, George Marsden, Lewis Spitz, and others.  Then it analyzes different approaches to history as exemplified by both scholars and popularizers.

I confess to having read, enjoyed, and followed, and even imitated many popularizers who have used history to support our beliefs and enlivened our stories.  There is a place for the slightly exaggerated anecdotal accounts of history, but those who are serious about the profession have to learn the ropes and think more carefully.  Such professionalism, to use an awful sounding term, does not have to ruin history.  In other words, to make George Washington into a theologian is bad history.  To reveal him as a man of great leadership skills and heroic stature and even a man of faith can be done both correctly and in a way that edifies.

Don’t plan on majoring in history or teaching history without having read this book with care.

BEST POLITICAL HISTORIES

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Thomas Fleming is one of my favorite writers and historians.  I have also come to know him as a very gracious gentleman.  I don’t have to wonder if a book he has written will be good or not–it will be.  While he is conversant on quite a few areas of history, the early period from the American Revolution to the Jeffersonian Era is his specialty.  I am anticipating with eagerness his next book which will be on the generalship of George Washington.

This past year was unnforgettable and, quite frankly, odd as a political season.  Sometimes, in search of sanity, I found it healing to read political histories.  As the Roman historian Livy said, “The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind.”  Part of the cure is being able to see that there never was a pristine, perfect past where only statesmen walked the halls of power.  George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson were all gifted men and brilliant leaders in their time.

But they were men, meaning human, meaning like us, meaning great virtues and damaging vices can exist side by side.  The Great Divide: The Conflict Between Washington and Jeffeson That Defined A Nation tells the story of Jefferson’s frequent scheming, undermining, and opposing George Washington.  Sure, Jefferson served Washington as Secretary of State, and Jefferson had plenty of defining moments as a man of vision. But after you finish gazing at Jefferson’s monuments across the land, you can be sure that no one would wisely turn his back on the man from Monticello.

Much of the conflict was carried on at a ground level by Hamilton and Jefferson and some of their supporters, but it was a real divide.  If you are not thankful for anything else today, be thankful for this:  Jefferson’s unabated love for the French Revolution did not infect George Washington.  Great book.  Read Thomas Fleming, starting with any book he wrote.

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When America Liked Ike: How Moderates Won the 1952 Election and Reshaped American Politics by Gary Donaldson will probably only appeal to political science students and teachers and political junkies like me.  This retelling of the story of the 1952 election was a refreshing read during a year when the bizarre in politics became mainstream.  Neither Eisenhower or Stevenson were perfect men, but had Stevenson won, America would have been well governed.  And since Eisenhower won, it was, likewise, well governed.

It is surprising that after four national defeats–several of them by landslide proportions–that the Republicans would have all flocked to General Eisenhower.  But the party establishment (that bad word of 2016) included plenty of conservative (when it included isolationism as a plank) forces.  National elections hinge on lots of demographic and economic dynamics.  The personalities at the top of the tickets only reflect and motivate those forces.  Good book.  First time I have read this author, but it won’t be the last.

BEST INTELLECTUAL HISTORIES

The Death of Humanity and the Case for Life and Hitler’s Religion: The Twisted Beliefs that Drove the Third Reich by Richard Weikart

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I am both proud of and jealous of my e-friend Dr. Richard Weikart for getting two outstanding books published in one year.  The two books are on largely different subjects, although Dr. Weikart has focused quite a bit of his career on the ideas and philosophies that influenced the modern German and the Third Reich.

I have previously reviewed both of these books and would again recommend them as serious, weighty, and good reads.  The Death of Humanity, as I have said before, can be viewed as an undated, retelling of the message of Francis Schaeffer in How Should We Then Live?  There are always those who object to such books in part because they boil the thinking of a major figure down to a few pages.  I am more than happy for someone to counter these books with lengthy analyses of several hundred pages on such thinkers.  Certainly, men like Darwin, Huxley, Nietzsche, and others are worthy candidates for in-depth studies.  But until the 24 hour day is abolished, I am dependent on those who synthesize and condense philosophers, scientists, and social commentators.

The Death of Humanity, like all of Weikart’s books, is premised on Christian presuppositions.  But all serious students of LIFE should read his books.  His underlying belief system is not concealed, but it is, in my opinion, convincing.

Hitler’s Religion is a serious and detailed book that clearly shows how unclear Hitler’s religious views were. He was not a Christian in any sense of the word and not even likely a theist in any real sense.  That point has to be asserted and proved since there are those who attack Christianity on the grounds that men like Hitler and Stalin were Christians.  I am more than open and optimistic about questions regarding the faith of men like Churchill and Roosevelt, but think that contending Hitler’s Christianity is a minor point.

But that then raises the question of what Hitler was.  It would not be a fair point or accurate one for a Christian to pin the label of atheist on Hitler either.  On the one hand, Hitler gave lots of public statements that were religiously based.  He was a skilled politician who knew how to use words so as to please several crowds at once.  He did live and rule in a country that had Christian roots and institutions.  But Hitler himself was a pantheist.  As Gary Scott Smith said, “Weikart argues that Hitler is best understood as a pantheist, one who believes that nature is God and that the cosmos provides principles to guide human conduct.”

This book is not just a good read about the particular mixed up mind of Adolf Hitler. Instead, it tells us quite a bit about the basically religious nature of all men and of some of the particular deviations found in early 20th Century Europe.

BEST WORK BY A NEW (YOUNG) HISTORIAN

The Fatal Land: War, Empire, and the Highland Soldier in British America by Matthew Dziennik

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I must admit to a lot of prejudice regarding the author here.  I met Dr. Dziennik a few years ago at Yorktown Battlefield.  He was still working on his doctorate and traipsing back and forth from his native Scotland to the U.S. and Canada doing research and lecturing and working on his dissertation.  He is what I would have been if I had been young, disciplined, brave enough to travel, and smart–and Scottish.  I knew from our conversation and subsequent communications that this guy was an up-and-coming name in the field of history.  This book is proof that I was right.

Reader beware, however:  This is a serious, scholarly, and sometimes technical study of Scottish Highlander soldiers in the British possessions in North America.  If you simply want to enjoy the imaginary thrill of bagpipes as hearty Scots dash across the field of battle to give cold steel to their enemies, this book might disappoint you. But if you want to both read some serious history and actually see what historians have to do, read this book.

Scotsmen were not all basic warriors at heart.  They lived in a land subjugated by their English neighbors (overlords).  Lack of opportunities made military service an interesting option.  Military service generally meant transfer to the North American colonies.  So Scotsmen served throughout the 13 colonies and the Canadian territories.  The various wars and conflicts with Frenchmen, Indians, and disgruntled American colonists gave them plenty of opportunities to fight.  Time spent in the colonies also convinced some to find their own stakes in the land here.

Part of the value of this book is that it punctures one of my favorite images.  It is not that I am wrong and Dr. Dziennik is right (or at least I am not admitting that).  It is that the story I like to believe is only a part of the story.  Surely, lots of Scotsmen who migrated to the colonies served under General Washington.  Surely, the battles of Cowpens and King’s Mountain were payback for defeats at places like Culloden.  But lots of Scots gave total service and loyalty to the British army.  As Professor Tom Wagy asserts and re-asserts, “Nothing is simple.”

This book comes with a pretty good price.  Then comes the price of the time and attention needed to read it.  But, it’s worth it.  I am looking forward to many more books from Matthew Dziennik.

 

 

Sell Your Shoes–Buy Spurgeon’s Books

 

It was the late 1970s and I was sitting in one of Professor Henry Wood’s history lectures furiously taking notes.  I could have focused on the key history details and only wrote down those matters pertinent to the next test.  But I never could focus just on that.  Without knowing the exact words, I was following the concept of “the student must become like the teacher.”  By that, I believed that if a teacher said, recommended it, mentioned, or modeled it, I should follow that lead.

Who Mr. Wood quoted, I don’t know.  I only know he said, “Sell your shoes and buy Spurgeon.”  This was advice he had received from a preacher or professor along the way, perhaps at Ouachita Baptist College or maybe during his time in seminary.  Or maybe he read it somewhere.  I wasn’t at all sure of who this Spurgeon was.  Then as now, selling your own shoes would not get you much money.  (Maybe not buying that extra pair of shoes is a better concept.)

At any rate, I wrote it down.  Books were just beginning to accumulate in my life.  While most of my buys were histories and literary classics, more and more were books on theological and Biblical topics.  I wasn’t changing from a history to a theology major, but my mind was undergoing a transformation.  The change was as radical in many ways as my own personal salvation of a few years prior had been.

But who was this Spurgeon and why were his writings so valuable?

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We are talking about Charles H. Spurgeon, the great English preacher of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Sometimes called “the Prince of Preachers,” he spoke without technical amplification to thousands each Sunday.  Hearers had to obtain tickets to hear him preach.  His sermons, lectures, and books were mass produced in his day.  Even in our time, there are an innumerable amount of the writings of Spurgeon ranging from the inexpensive to very expensive works.

First confession, I failed to follow Mr. Wood’s advice at that time.  I did buy one small paperback, which was titled John Ploughman’s Talks.  The sayings and stories in that and other John Ploughman volumes are quite enjoyable, but that small volume didn’t quite convince me of the worth of Spurgeon.

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Through the years, I mainly picked up quotes here and there from Spurgeon about faith, prayer, the Bible, and the Christian life.  Moreover, many Calvinist writers quoted really great Spurgeon statements on Calvinism, predestination, election, and salvation.  Spurgeon is so useful for quotes and quips that I even purchased a book of Spurgeon quotes.  Along with that, there are really popular books such as Morning and Evening, which is a devotional book that has been reprinted and revised many times.

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Perhaps the most influential book I read about Spurgeon was The Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray.  That book is one of the most important books on church history and theology and ministry ever written.  It was the first of many reads of books by Iain Murray, who combines good story telling in biographies with solid theology and instruction.  You never know in reading Murray if you are gaining more in education or edification.  This may have also been my first time to read a Banner of Truth book, of which many reads and acquisitions have followed.

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The book traced several battles that Spurgeon found himself in the front lines of during his life and ministry.  One was over the Doctrines of Grace, a.k.a., Calvinism.  In his early years–and no one has ever surpassed Spurgeon’s sermons when he was too young to be preaching!–he preached at a church called New Park Street.  His most doctrinally powerful sermons on grace from what we call a Reformed perspective was preached at New Park Street.  The multi-volume New Park Street Pulpit is one of the best resources around for reading Spurgeon’s work.

Calvinism has often come under attack.  Its popularity has often waxed and waned, and Spurgeon was defending what seemed to be a losing cause by defending Calvinism in his time.  He was definitely going against the grain, against the waves, against the trends, against the times, against the prevailing winds, or whatever other metaphor is apt.  He was convinced, however, both of the truth of what he was preaching and teaching and of the ultimate revival of the doctrines he loved.

(Side note:  In the not long past decades, some who found Spurgeon’s sermons appealing in many respects were put off by his Calvinism.  Hence they decided to do old Charley a favor and they edited his books, and even changed his words, so as to soften or remove what he actually said.)

Spurgeon also battled for the truth and authority of the Bible during the Down-Grade Controversy.  No, the 1800s were not the “good old days.”  The Baptist Union of which Spurgeon was a part voted him down by a large majority because of his views of the Bible.  Even though he had many followers, church members, and students, he was increasingly a forgotten man by the time of his early death in 1892.

Thanks to Iain Murray’s work in writing The Forgotten Spurgeon, the only thing that is really questionable about the book is now its title.  Spurgeon is very much remembered, appreciated, loved, and read today.

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The most important and influential Spurgeon book for me in recent years is his set of talks titled Lectures to My Students.  This work has been reprinted by several publishers over the years, but the Banner of Truth edition is the most complete and is the nicest in terms of printing and format. I had read from portions of the book through the years, but then finally read it from cover to cover.  It is an incredibly good book for preachers, teachers, students of the Bible, and teachers and students of speech and rhetoric.  Many of the talks in this book were given by Spurgeon on Friday afternoons to the seminary students.  Par for the course and characteristic of the man, the book is full of wit (which transcends the passage of time), insight, convicting exhortations, and practical advice.  It is also a wonderful glimpse into the personality of Sprugeon himself.

I think one of my favorite experiences in reading this book was a chapter where he defended his own style of topical preaching as opposed to expository preaching through a longer text, a chapter, or book of the Bible.  I disagreed with Spurgeon both before and after reading the chapter, but I thought it was a marvelously well done piece of writing.  I heartily recommend the book to all, except preachers.  In their cases, I require the book.

All of this background into Spurgeon the man, Spurgeon the preacher, Spurgeon the hero of so many of us today is to highlight yet another new book on Spurgeon.  This work, titled The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon: His Earliest Outlines and Sermons between 1851 and 1854 and edited by Christian George, is a very beautiful, hardback volume containing a yet untapped vein of Spurgeon’s thought.  From the page on the B & H Academic website, we quote: “Beginning in January 2017, B&H Academic will start releasing a multi-volume set that includes full-color facsimiles, transcriptions, contextual and biographical introductions, and editorial   annotations. ”

This means that this is the first of many gems that will further enrich us with Spurgeon’s print ministry.  I can hardly wait to start digging into this book.

A few additional Spurgeon-related notes:

His auto-biography, published in two volumes, is yet another fine Banner of Truth production.  They are titled The Early Years and The Full Harvest.

There have been quite a few good biographies of Spurgeon.  A really good shorter work is the one done by Arnold Dallimore, titled Spurgeon: A Biography.  You may remember Dallimore for his excellent two volume biography of George Whitefield.

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Then there is the rather extensive and more recent biography of Spurgeon done by Tom Nettles, titled Living by Revealed Truth:  The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

No discussion of Spurgeon would be complete without mentioning his classic Treasury of David set.  These three volumes are “treasured” by all who love good Bible commentary that is solid, exegetical, and very practical.  Often reprinted, this set is a must.

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The only other case where Spurgeon wrote a Scripture commentary is the Gospel of Matthew.  His commentary has been reprinted by Banner of Truth. There is also an edition of this commentary that includes some of Spurgeon’s letters which was published by The Particular Baptist Press.

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While there are numerous collections of Spurgeon sermons, the most complete is the many volumes of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit.  There are over 60 weighty volumes in this set.  I own one measly volume.  Some years ago, I bought a large number of these from Pastor (and friend) David Richardson, who decided to read Spurgeon via his computer rather than having the set of books.  I then sold them to another friend and book dealer David Leach, who wanted them for himself.  I have felt–since then–like a wayfaring stranger, wandering through this world without these books.

Pilgrim Publications sells the Spurgeon set, as well as many other fine editions of Spurgeon’s works.  The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit set they offer has 48 hardbound volumes and goes for a mere $1074 (less than $23 a volume).

Many a good pastor has read Spurgeon sermons for years.  We don’t read him so as to preach like him, but we read him so that we can be instructed.

So, younger readers, as well as those my age and beyond, sell your shoes (or skip buying that new pair) and buy the works of Spurgeon.  Let’s start with his lost sermons.

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Calling All Scholars

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Most of us who are book folks are readers and collectors.  We may read a lot and know quite a bit, but we are still amateurs and samplers.  There is nothing wrong with being a person who loves reading.  That love of books and reading translates into different things for all kinds of people.  I come across shelves of books in people’s homes that include almost nothing I would want to have or read.  Many of my favorite books and authors would have no appeal to them.

There are, at the same time, people who are by profession and training deemed scholars.  I am not one.  I do, however, press my nose against the glass and watch them work.  I don’t have the academic training, the acute sense of distinctions, and the narrow pursuits that characterize these people.  Most academic scholars are professors and teachers in colleges and universities.  They had to focus time and attention on particular specializations and prove a mastery of a subject.  Sure, we might quip that a doctoral student learns more and more about less and less until he knows virtually everything about absolutely nothing.  And, I can console myself in my lack of academic training by saying that my interests were too broad and that I did not want to be constrained by the strictures of academia.

Maybe there is a need for someone to call academic scholars to account, but I am not that person.  I like and admire and even envy what they do without necessarily regretting not following that pursuit.  One thing that characterizes scholars and scholarship is writing.  Men and women with PhD.’s write lots of books.  University presses pour out thousands of books each year.  The books range in size, topic, readability, and interest across the board in terms of topics and styles of writing.

It is easy enough to find some obscure, arcane, and even dreadful topic that gets put into a book and published by an academic press.  I can make up titles like Tariff Concerns in Unionization Conflicts among Irish Immigrants in New York during the 1890s, but even that title is too popular-sounding to compete with actual publications.

I have quite a few sources for academic publications whose books I routinely acquire and love.  I receive lots of books from Oklahoma University Press, which publishes a series called Campaigns and Commanders, which is outstanding.  Any book titled The Oxford Book of __________________ gets my attention.  Many southern university presses have published loads of books about the Agrarians and southern literary figures.  Any time I am rifling through a stack of cheap books and find university press publications, I give those books heavy consideration.

Take note of several details regarding university presses and their publications:

  1.  They are generally expensive.  Often, they are priced completely out of range for the average buyer.  $95 is not an unusual price for such books.  The reason is that many such works have a limited appeal and will be purchased mainly by university libraries.  It costs a fortune to publish one copy of a book, and that price decreases more and more as the number of copies increases.  The best seller that goes for $25 probably costs about $3 to publish.  That’s economics and the laws of supply and demand.
  2. University press publications are usually high quality in terms of paper and binding.  That also is a factor that drives the price up.
  3. University press publications are usually heavily footnoted and contain lots of bibliographical material.  That is usually a plus to me.
  4. University press publications are often narrow and specialized in their appeal.  Is that good or bad?  Depends.  I really don’t want a book on the American Civil War.  I already have hundreds of them.  But a book on that part of the battle for Atlanta, Georgia known as the Battle of Ezra Church is of some interest.

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5.  Scholars who write for university presses have differing levels of writing ability and appeal to audiences.  Some are scholars who write for scholars.  Some are really hard for the average and non-specialized reader to follow.  Many assume a degree of familiarity with the topic that most of us do not have.  But there are academics, such as Niall Ferguson, Simon Schama, Thomas Kidd, and Thomas Foster, whose writing is quite enjoyable and attainable by more general readers.

All that being said, let me share a few readings and studies from scholarly publications that I read and/or attempted this past year.

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Some time back, I got to meet Dr. Jonathan Himes who teaches at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.  I also got to attend one of his English classes where he was teaching on Ovid.  Dr. Himes has also written some scholarly works related to his teaching fields and interests.  The book The Old English Epic of Waldere is one such work.  No, you will not find this on the best sellers’ list or at your local bookstore.  It does cost quite a bit for a small book.  To offset its small size, it is really well bound and is a detailed enough read that one does have to devote some serious time to it.

I am a late convert to anything Old English.  In fact, I am not all that many years past that age of ignorance where I might have described the King James Bible as being Old English.  (And I would have been certain that Chaucer’s work was Old English.)  My teaching career hinges upon lots of repentance and lots of retracing the roots of what I thought I knew.

For inexplicable reasons, I never read Beowulf in high school or college.  I upbraided a high school students once who called it stupid, but even then had not read it.  I now rank it as one of the pivotal and most important works of literature.  I love reading Beowulf, teaching the poem, gathering translations of it, and contrasting it with the interesting movie 13th Warrior.

But Beowulf is not complete and neither was it the only poem to exist in its time.  The heartbreak of reading Himes’ work on Waldere is that only a small fragment of that poems exists.  One can hope that some archival dig in some old library or monastery or cave in Britain will someday yield a much larger, if not complete, copy of this poem.

Both poems present an England that is being slowly Christianized.  Himes writes, “…the Waldere poet posits a hero who, like Beowulf, is not only the greatest champion of his people, but also the greatest moral example of the pagan world.”  The greater concept of heroes is a critical one for all of life.  We might tend to think of heroes as simply useful character-types for movies and certain kinds of books.  But it seems as if we as people cannot exist without some sort of heroic figures.  Day by day life calls for something or someone who transcends the ordinary, who inspires, leads, and models a way of handling circumstances that changes us.

The Anglo-Saxons of days long gone had a rich and complex world and worldview.  Tolkien upended all Beowulf studies when he argued that the poem contained structures and themes make it real literature.  It was not just a glimpse into old ways of warriors.  Anglo-Saxon warfare is interesting enough, and this book has a marvelous appendix devoted to weapons and wargear.

This book is a really useful supplement and resource for teachers and students of Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon history.  It is a fun glimpse at the scholarly work that goes into drawing out the words and meanings from a few damaged leaves of a manuscript.  Dr. Himes told me that he hopes to see a cheaper, more accessible version of this work put into print.  I would hope so, but until then, this small work is a useful and enjoyable gem.

One final quote:  “Waldere‘s scale of heroic action, its proportions of triumphant themes, and its tone of a Christian ethos clearly portray Walter as a hero of unequaled epic status, one whom Anglo-Saxon audiences may have celebrated even more widely than the protagonist of Beowulf.”

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I have previously reviewed The Fatal Land: War, Empire, and the Highland Soldier in British America in this blog.  Once again, I will be a name dropper and mention that I could Dr. Dziennik as a friend.  What I hate to admit is that he is a model scholar to a degree that leaves me in the role of student.  I suspected soon after I met him that he would begin to emerge in the world of historical research and writing.  For various reasons, some of the best historians are still being trained in the United Kingdom, the University of Edinburgh in Dziennik’s case, and then they cross the pond to teach in American universities.

The book’s title whets the appetite for a rousing read about kilt-wearing Scots, with pipes rousing them to a fighting pitch, plunging forth into battle and wailing away at Frenchies, Spaniards, Indians, and, awkward to admit, American Patriots.  One expects a book with a Mel Gibson-like hero combining the roles of William Wallace and Benjamin Martin (the hero in the movie The Patriot).

But Dr. Dziennik wrote this book as part of his research for obtaining a doctorate in history, and that labor sometimes cuts off the flow of a version of popular history that we would all like to believe.  The Scots, particularly the Highlanders, have had an uneasy history within the greater British (or could we say English?) Empire.  Scotland isn’t exactly the most hospitable land for surviving and thriving.  The military and the prospects of land and settlement in British America were both incentives for Highlanders.

In spite of the myth of the “Fighting Scots,” the Scots soldiers were not natural or inborn with martial skills.  This book is a carefully researched reconstruction of what motivated and sustained the Scottish soldiers.  Granted, such historical “matter of fact” may tarnish some of our love of the glory of the past, but historians are not primarily entertainers.

I would encourage any serious student wanting to major in history, teach or write history, or get a graduate degree in history to carefully read this book.  There is method to the manner of this book.  This is the kind of research that is necessary to get behind the broad brush painting that so many of us enjoy about history.  It calls for more sweat and the upending of some cherished beliefs, but that is the task of the historian.

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An important study of Herman Dooyeweerd can be found in Jonathan Chaplin’s book Herman Dooyeweerd: Christian Philosopher of State and Civil Society.  One of the biggest questions I have struggled to answer is this:  Which is harder–books written by Dooyeweerd or books written about Dooyeweerd?

First, a little background.  Herman Dooyeweerd was a Dutch philosopher who lived from 1894 to 1977.  Since he wrote in Dutch, the process of getting his works into English and then into accessible formats has taken some time.  He was a Christian with a strong Reformed (or Calvinistic) background.  His philosophy is built upon Christian foundations and his school of thought is often called Neo-Calvinism (not to be confused with New Calvinism).

Dooyeweerd had a big influence on quite a few Christian thinkers including Cornelius Van Til, R. J. Rushdoony, H. R. Rookmaaker, Nancy Pearcey, and Roy Clouser.  His followers continue to write about, debate, and explore his thought and its applications to a range of philosophical, theological, political, and social questions.  Here are a few testimonials to his influence:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Dr. P.B. Cliteur, wrote in 1994: “Herman Dooyeweerd is undoubtedly the most formidable Dutch philosopher of the 20th century.”                                                            G.E. Langemeijer, attorney general of the Dutch Appeal Court and chairman of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, wrote that Dooyeweerd was “the most original philosopher Holland has ever produced, even Spinoza not excepted.”                                                                                                                                                                         Giorgio Delvecchio, an Italian neo-Kantian philosopher, viewed Dooyeweerd as “the most profound, innovative, and penetrating philosopher since Kant. ”                Philosopher Alvin Plantinga stated that “Dooyeweerd’s work was comprehensive, insightful, profound, courageous, and quite properly influential.”

I have been attempting to climb Mount Dooyeweerd for some years now.  Each time I attack the books by and about Dooyeweerd, I get a little closer to understanding him.  This particular book is one that I started a few years ago and then bogged down around page 30.  Now I am making another run at this work.  I plan on reading it all the way through this time.  If I don’t understand it, then I will read it again–Lord willing.

 

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Dr. Dooyeweerd looks a little doubtful that I will ever make succeed in truly understanding him.

The world of scholarship is extraterrestrial for me in many respects.  It would be easier and more accessible if I honed in on one area.  These books deal with Anglo-Saxon literature and history, British culture and the Highland Scots experience in the American colonies, and the political thought of a 20th century Dutch Christian philosopher.  At the very least, I can enjoy the efforts at reading these kinds of works.

 

 

 

 

Christmas and Books–Mere Suggestianity

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There are a few problems here.  On the one hand, there are not many shopping days left until Christmas.  On the other hand, many of the better books are not easily found in your local book chains.  Add to that the problem that there just are not enough good independent bookstores.  My favorite “indies” are in Dallastown, Pennsylvania and Oxford, Mississippi.

There are some bargain books to be found for sure.  True collectors object to the black remainder marks on the bottom of a book, but in my book buying philosophy, getting is the first objective.

I am certain that Stronger Together by Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine could be picked up for a fraction of its original cost (but still more than its worth).  But no serious reader wants that book.  As comedy, it is unappealing.  As fantasy, it is too comical.

So, I will mention a few good books that I have acquired that might fit the needs of the serious book man or woman in your life.  Since they are not available in most cases in your local book store, you can order them.

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  1.  Russell Kirk: American Conservative by Bradley Birzer.  For those who are really interested in conservative thought, 20th century political movements, and political philosophy, this book is a gem.  I started it a few weeks ago and will be picking it back up very soon.  Kirk was an amazing and prolific writer.  His topics ranged from history to politics to literature and ghost stories.  I have made it my practice to be reading some of his political writings and fiction along with this biography.

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An added note:  Dr. Bradley Birzer is a fine historian and biographer.  His books on J. R. R. Tolkien and Christopher Dawson are both top shelf.

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2.    Preaching Christ from Psalms by Sidney Greidanus.  If this book consisted only of its lengthy first chapter, it would be a great book.  I am still slowly plodding my way through this work.  It is vast and varied.  It is a great read through book, but not one that you should ever finish.  By that, I mean that the contents can be read and referenced many times.  One of my plans for 2017 is to read several books on Psalms as well as some slow reading of the Book of Psalms.  This book will be the foundation for my studies.  I now want everything that Greidanus has written, but will try to refrain from a buying splurge until this book is finished.

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3.  The Poems of T. S. Eliot, Volumes 1 and 2.  I was thrilled to receive this set of books.  The poetic works of Eliot can be found in many one volume editions, but this definitive work, published by Johns Hopkins Press.  Here is what I wrote previously about these books:

God blessed Britain in the Twentieth Century with a bevy of great literary figures. Christians often celebrate C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton. Less often, we notice Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and Christopher Dawson. But one of the best known literary figures–a Nobel Prize winner as well–was the American-born T. S. Eliot.
Johns Hopkins Press has published 2 incredible volumes that contain his poems along with extensive notes and commentaries.
These 2 new books are getting acquainted with some of the other literary works in my library.
These 2 volumes are “must haves” for the poets, literary students, and collectors of fine books on your Christmas list.

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4.  Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T. J. Stiles.  I consider a Pulitzer Prize win a good recommendation for a book.  This one is really inviting.  We often think of George Custer in regard to this tragic blunder-filled death at Little Big Horn.  (Maybe not “tragic” from the viewpoint of the Indian tribes.)  But Custer was a much more significant figure than just a historical tragic note.  The history of post-Civil War America is largely a history of the settlement of the frontier, meaning the Rocky Mountain and Pacific states.

Another interesting book related to this is Kill Jeff Davis: The Union Raid on Richmond, 1864 by Bruce Ventor.

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My story on this book can be found on the Porter Briggs Voice of the South website.

5.  Speaking of the Porter Briggs Voice of the South, a few months back, I did a story on William Faulkner’s book The Unvanquished.  Consider it unsaid that recommendations regarding Faulkner’s works are always relevant for any season.  While gathering pictures for that story, I came across the most powerful image of a burned out plantation house.  Keep in mind that such a building fit in well with Faulkner’s book and to the references in my story to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.  

The Civil War resulted in the actual destruction of many Southern plantations as well as the destruction of the economy that enabled the plantations to thrive before the war (Pinhole Photograph by Michael Falco from the book, Echoes of the Civil War: Capturing Battlefields Through A Pinhole Camera)

This picture, which is actually of a plantation house that burned in recent years, captures the defeat of the south powerfully. Notice the sun going down in the distance.

My editor, Bill Izard, contacted the photographer Michael Falco.  The picture is from his new book of pinhole photographs titled Echoes of the Civil War: Capturing Battlefields Through A Pinhole Camera.  

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There are many, maybe too many, Civil War coffee table books.  But this book and the work in it sets it apart.  Better just go ahead and order 2 copies of this book–one for yourself and one for that person on your guest list.  The beauty of these photographs coupled with the horrors of thinking of Civil War battlefields calls to mind that statement from Yeats’ poem “And a terrible beauty was born.”

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6.  The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Christ’s Crucifixion by N. T. Wright.  This book really looks good.  Many readers of theology grab up everything that Wright writes thinking that Wright’s writing is right.  (Sorry.)  I am not the biggest fan of the good Bishop of Durham even though I stood next to him once some years ago.  Still, I have a great appreciation of him.  I look forward to diving into this book soon.

7.  If Daniel Silva had a new book out, I would recommend it.  It is somewhat hard to imagine Gabriel Allon celebrating Christmas on King Saul Boulevard with his Jewish family and friends, but one can always hope.

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8.  Based on 2 ventures into the world of Craig Johnson and his iconic character Sheriff Walt Longmire, I think I can safely recommend the Longmire series.  If you like the books, you might like the television series.  If you like the television series, you might like the books.

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If you are still wondering about a “hard to find the right book for this guy person,” drop me a line and I might have further suggestions.