Apostle of the East: The Life and Journeys of Daniel Little

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Apostle of the East: The Life and Journeys of Daniel Little by Russell M. Lawson is published by St. Polycarp’s Publishing House.

One of the amazing features of book publishing today is the number of small, independent publishers.  Of course, the big names such as Random House (no relation to me), Harper & Row, Penguin, and others still produce many books.  Of course, university presses are pouring out more books than can possibly be comprehended.  Of course, the best sellers and the books most commonly found in the chain bookstores are from the New York based big companies.

But behind the scenes, off the main book interstates, and obscured by their very obscurity, small publishers are producing fine quality works on topics that will never break through the charts, reach the New York Times book reviews, or make millions for their authors or publishers.  Small niches–they are.  But they are filling in some vital gaps, reaching remnants of people who can search through the thousands of books at Books-A-Million and find nothing worthwhile.  Some of these small presses focus on reprints of classic works of literature, history, or theology.  Some focus on theology.  Some on history.  Some produce works of fiction and poetry.

When we discover one of their books, we often realize that we not only had heard of the publisher, but we may not even remember where we first heard of the book.  Perhaps it was on Facebook that I first stumbled across a book by an author I did not know, about a man I had not heard of, and published by a Christian group I was not aware of.

But the results of those fortuitous finds, or we might say providential blessings, can be quite rewarding.

Apostle of the East: The Life and Journeys of Daniel Little filled in a wide gap (of which there are many) in my understanding of colonial, Revolutionary, and post-Revolutionary American history.  We hear so much about the 13 Colonies on the eastern seaboard.  It was only by a few encounters with George Grant’s lectures that I realized that there were far more than 13 colonies, many of which chose not to join in the fracas of the 1770’s.

The current state of Maine is identified on the colonial maps as being part of Massachusetts colony and state.  In fact, it did not become a state until 1820 when it was brought in to maintain the slave and free state balance due to Missouri’s quest for statehood.  The narrative flow of history books focuses on the westward movement which then leads to the Northwest Ordinance, Manifest Destiny, the settlement of the states beyond the Appalachians, and then to the cultural divides between the northern, southern, and western states.

Maine crops up with the Missouri Compromise.  Perhaps, if one if reading about General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, either in biographies or in the novel Killer Angels, his service as an educator, soldier, and politician will relate back to Maine.  Then there is the famous quip made during the 1936 election campaign where Franklin Roosevelt trounced Alf Landon.  The statement was “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont.”  (Sometime prior to that, the saying was “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.”)  One cannot forget that Senator Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican and a woman who showed up in the fight for the Republican Presidential nomination fight in 1964, was from Maine.  (Barry Goldwater won that contentious fight, and it would be interesting to consider how history would have been different if he had put Sen. Smith on the ticket instead of William Miller.)  Later, Ed Muskie, another Senator, Vice Presidential candidate, failed Presidential primary candidate, and Secretary of State was from Maine.

The state is obscure to me, and its early history was a total blank.  But it was an outlet for the many thousands of people on the eastern coast.  Why, with New England winter’s and rugged soil, they ventured even further north is a puzzle to me.  But they did.  And there, they encountered various Indian tribes, particularly the Penobscot tribe.  These settlers were the children of the folks who settled the established New England colonies, but the distance they moved separated them from the culture, religion, and civilized ways of Boston and its environs.

Apostle of the East tells the story of one man’s experiences in bringing the Gospel to settlers and Indians in Maine.  Daniel Little lived from 1724 to 1801.  He lived, therefore, during such events as the Great Awakening, the French and Indian War, the prelude to the American War for Independence, the war itself, and the time when the Constitution was written, ratified, and put into effect.  Most of these events were outside of his own direct involvement, but he was not without contact with them.

Although he pastored a couple of churches in the Maine territory, he spent a good many seasons traveling throughout the region working to spread the Gospel, evangelize Indians, and establish churches and schools.  Most of the English colonists were folks who had drifted far from places where churches were found.  Prone to squabbles and deviations from Christian practices, they were–to use Flannery O’Connor’s words–Christ-haunted if not Christ-centered.  Dealing with the Indian tribes was a harder challenge.  For one thing, there was the continual problem of land dealings.  Dealings is a nice way to describe the efforts of the stronger white ruling folk to impose boundaries on the Indians.  Along with that, many of the tribes had been influenced by French Catholic mission works.  Trying to differentiate between French Catholicism and British Protestantism was a challenge, and many Indians were plenty satisfied with their own beliefs.

Although missions were his main passion, Little was also interested in science and exploration.  In the area he was in, that meant scaling mountains.  As a trained minister, he was a teacher and educator, a theologian, and a scientist in the tradition of the day.

In several cases, Dr. Lawson, the author, describes how Little’s theology changed.  He writes, “Little’s simple piety in a God who blesses all of the Creation led him to move increasingly from New England Calvinism to a more Universalist mindset.  Feeling that anyone could be saved spurred Little on to bring the Good News to the ignorant, the wayward, the Catholic, the Indian.”  I find this passage both troubling and unclear.  I think the author did a fine job of recounting the many journeys of his subject, but a better theological analysis is missing from this book.  I would have preferred an approach more like a George Marsden could have given.

Universalist is not explained, nor do I think that New England Calvinism is understood.  Jonathan Edwards was very much the Calvinist who preached the Good News to all sorts of people and even did mission work among the Indians.  There are too few excerpts from sermons and letters for the reader to make any judgment on Little’s theology.  (And Calvinism, although mentioned several times, is not in the index.)

Anyone wanting to grapple with the theological developments in New England will find little help in this book.  On the other hand, it is a interesting and enjoyable account of a man who gave himself unstintingly to church planting and missions.  As I said earlier, it does turn the focus from the westward movement of the nation to the most north-eastern portion.

Also, there is another fine point of interest in the book.  Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a powerful short story called “The Minister’s Black Veil.”  Little was taught for a time by a Harvard-trained pastor named Joseph Moody, who was overwhelmed by the emotional weight of his work.  The author writes, “He felt completely completely inadequate to represent the Lord of the Universe to his small parish.  This inadequacy translated into an overbearing weight of sin upon him.  Unable to look his parishioners, or anyone else, in the eye, as if he were looking God Himself in the eye, Moody veiled his face in public, ate alone, and eventually decided he could no longer serve as pastor.”

 

The Essential Karl Barth

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The Essential Karl Barth: A Reader and Commentary by Keith L. Johnson is published by Baker Publishing Group.

Karl Barth was one of the most influential theologians of the 20th Century.  He remains one of the more controversial theologians as well.  I have no way of knowing how much influence he still has or will have over the next few decades.  Theology is not my field of specialty.  I watch the high dives while wading in the shallow end of the pool.

I figure that many pastors, teachers, and theology students are not all that different from me in their familiarity with Barth.  We have heard the name.  Often it is resounding in phrases like “Bultmann, Barth, and Brunner.”  Add Tillich to the mix and you have the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who either spread wisdom throughout the Christian world or who spread evil.

In my background in very conservative Reformed and Presbyterian circles, Barth (and company listed above) were not admired and were seen as the enemy of orthodoxy.  Two of my great theological heroes, Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til (pictured below), both wrote books critiquing…let’s be more blunt…critically condemning Barth’s theology.  These two men, dogmatic as they could be, were not simply off on a rant.  There were elements in Barth’s theology that were not merely different perspectives on truth, but were undermining of the same.

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I must confess that in my life experiences (which have been limited), I don’t recall ever running into a bona fide Barthian.  I don’t recall hearing him quoted either.  That was all true for many years, until one occasion when I was working on a lesson prior to Easter.  I needed a quote from a heretic who denied the resurrection.  I went in search of Barth denial and was struck by the fact that he affirmed it.  I mean a bodily resurrection of Jesus the God/Man and not some mystical sense of “the spirit and teachings of Jesus lives on.”

It was around this same time that I learned that my friend P. Andrew Sandlin, a man who had worked alongside of R. J. Rushdoony, was an admirer of Barth.  And then, the more I searched for the quotes on all subjects, the more I discovered that Barth didn’t just happen to say something true and good every now and then, but he did so often.

Karl Barth wrote a large number of books, many of them quite weighty and lengthy.  He was a dominating theological force both in European and North American circles.  If you go around the theological blocks a time or two, you will encounter quotes, references, critiques, praises, and condemnation of Barth.

I often think (and maybe regret) that I did not pick a particular theologian or Christian thinker to be to focal point of my own reading and study.  Instead, I have flitted from branch to branch, reading a book by this person, a biography of another, and many quotes and references to all the big names in Reformed circles with a few outside those confines.  If I could pick the theologian to study and devote years to trying to master and understand, it would not be Barth.

That is why books like The Essential Karl Barth are so useful and necessary.  I ascribe to the idea that most pastors need to be theologians and scholars.  Books such as The Pastor as Public Theologian by Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan address these issues.

Along with the near impossible task of keeping up with the latest theological trends, ideas, and debates, there is the need to be aware of the past teachers and leaders of the Church.  Very certainly, I would put Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Hodge, Machen, and a few others before Barth, but I would not leave Barth out.

One of the most helpful and instructive things about The Essential Karl Barth is the work that Keith Johnson put into giving a helpful sketch of Barth’s life and times at the beginning of the book and then giving descriptions and footnotes to the selections he includes.  I am sure that real Barthians will grimace over what is left out, but I find the amount of information helpful.  In other words, sometimes I have no idea what problem or people Barth is writing about, but the notes set the context and explain what is going on.

I know this for certain, Barth is usually labeled as Neo-Orthodox.  Although he called himself Reformed and he fit into the Reformed tradition in some ways, his theology put him at odds with the more strictly and historically Reformed people that I am associated with.  But he was strongly opposed to the theological liberals of his day.  He was not on a mission against American evangelical or fundamentalist thinking; rather, he was going full throttle against those who denied the supernatural God and the Bible.  He believed that Jesus was the God/Man and that He rose from the dead.  He affirmed much that we believe, and his enemies were those that we would oppose.

I remember reading from John Warwick Montgomery an account of him going to hear Barth speak in Chicago.  Montgomery, a very solid Lutheran, opposed Barth’s theology.  But on this occasion, he was in Barth’s corner as he listened to him skewer the theological liberals.

Paperback Preaching in Hitler's Shadow : Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich Book

 

A final point is actually one of my main reasons for being interested in Barth.  He opposed World War I and preached against it.  Then, in the 1930’s, he began speaking out against and criticizing the German Christian movement.  He is often remembered and praised even by his critics for signing the Barmen Resolution.  Alongside other Christians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul  Schneider, Martin Niemoller, Barth saw the sham of identifying German nationality and culture with Christianity.  Being Swiss, he was able to escape from Germany.  After the war, he labored to restore the crumbled foundations in European Christendom.

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Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church by James E. Beitler

Seasoned Speech

Simply put, this book is outstanding. Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church by James E. Beitler III is published by IVP Academic.

My first serious encounter with the subject of rhetoric was around 1995 when I attended a classical Christian school conference.  In reality, I first encountered rhetoric when I was an infant, but I am speaking of it as a subject we consciously study.  In college, the first two English courses were titled Rhetoric and Composition, but the term “rhetoric” was never really explained.  That name was a hold-over from the past and it made the course sound much more academic than merely calling it “Writing Class.”

Rhetoric is one of the foundational and defining courses in the classical education world.  Like so much that has happened in that educational revolution and renaissance, it has focused quite a bit on the older, even oldest, treatments of the subject.  Hence, Aristotle’s Rhetoric, (Pseudo-) Cicero’s Rhetorica ad Herrinium, and Quintillian’s multiple volumes of rhetoric are the textbooks of many courses being taught to high schoolers.  As much as anything, the use of these books have been educating teachers in the field of rhetoric.  Due to the increased interest in the subject, many books have been discovered or written on the topic in more recent times.  Corbett and Connor’s Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, Richard Weaver’s Rhetoric, Scott Crider’s excellent Office of Assertion, Sister Miriam Joseph’s The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric, Douglas and N. D. Wilson’s The Rhetoric Companion, and Fitting Words by James Nance are all among the “must have’s” for the rhetoric teacher of today.

But, let’s be clear about this:  However full your shelf of rhetorical studies may be, it is near empty if you do not have Seasoned Speech.  This book is top notch, fun, challenging, mind-expanding, and inspirational.  Can you read between the lines enough to discern that I love this book?

Yet, one may think that we have narrowed the field of interest to those individuals who teach rhetoric in school.  For Christians, the primary rhetoriticians that we are exposed to are our pastors and teachers in the church.  This book, as asserted by the subtitle, is for the life of the church.  Yes, to the improvement of rhetoric in the academies, in politics, and in the world of secular discourse, but persuasive and powerful speech must be the focus of those who preach, teach, write, and counsel in the broader Christian world.  It is one of the joyful facts that among Reformed people, we believe that no one is convinced apart from a work of the Spirit of God and that it is incumbent upon the speaker to make his or her words winsome, clear, and convincing.

This book approaches the subject by examining the lives and writings of five people who were and are influential Christian thinkers.  One might well question some of the particular doctrinal beliefs of each of the five, but this book is not an ordination exam.  It uses the writers as models for what they did effectively.

The first up on the list is C. S. Lewis.  Lewis is far from a one-dimensional writer.  He is known for his novels, both those directed at younger audiences and those that are more adult-centered.  Many people love his theological writings, especially Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters.  Quite a few volumes of his essays have been published, including God in the Dock.  He was also a first-rate literary scholar as seen in such books as Preface to Paradise Lost.

I have quite a few books by Lewis and an equally large number of books about him.  And I don’t consider myself to be a Lewis scholar.

This book, Seasoned Speech, focuses on Lewis as a rhetor.  The aim is to show how Lewis makes the faith winsome in his writings.  The application of this and all the chapters is for others, such as preachers, teachers, and writers, to absorb the same skill.

The second figure in the book is Dorothy Sayers.  She may very well be one of the most neglected Christian thinkers of our time, which neglects many fine Christian thinkers.  A few months back, I read and reviewed The Gospel in Dorothy Sayers.  That review can be found here.

While she paid her electric bill by writing mystery novels, she also wrote some fine theological tracts.  She, too, was a master of communication.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the third subject of the book.  His biography is well known because of his involvement (indirectly) in a plot to kill Adof Hitler.  His books The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together are two of the best Christian books I have ever read.  Yes, I know that Bonhoeffer had some theological oddities, quirks, and false ideas in his overall theology, but he did write and say some things well worth reading–again and again.  The chapter on him highlights some of the best of his ideas.

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I was not as familiar with the details of Desmond Tutu’s life.  I do remember the ordeals of South Africa during the years in which he was a spiritual leader there.  So, this section was nearly all new information, but good reading.

Concerning Marilynne Robinson, I first learned of her just a few years ago.  Two friends, who have no connection with each other, sent me emails recommending her book Gilead.   I read it and liked it, but it took some more reflection upon it before I began sensing how good the book actually is.  Then I read the two other related novels, Home and Lila.  If you are wanting some rip roaring adventure, steer clear of these books, for the action is slow and there is much meditation that takes place in the stories and in the reader’s mind.  But they are a great work, and these three volumes have to be seen as being a unified work, although one could read Gilead without reading the others.

I hope to say more about Robinson after I complete Balm in Gilead: A Theological Dialog with Marilynne Robinson, which is also a recent IVP publication.

Balm in Gilead

Back to Seasoned Speech:  This is a not an easy beach read, but it is a very rewarding study.  Whether one tackles all five of its subjects or just one, the book is worth the effort.  It ranks high on my list of really fine books and on my list of books that must be read again.

Seasoned Speech

A. W. Tozer–Three Spiritual Classics

 

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) remains one of the most popular devotional Christian writers of our time.  Moody Press, which has long promoted Tozer’s work, has combined three of his best known works into one fine hardback edition.  Three Spiritual Classics in One Volume contains The Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and God’s Pursuit of Man.  See the website HERE for more details.

A. W. Tozer: Three Spiritual Classics in One Volume: The Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, and God's Pursuit of Man

First of all, the well-known Tozer and the many editions of his books means that I am not having to acquaint many readers with him or convince many to read him.  I have, since getting this review book, come across numerous new and used copies of his books and an untold number of quotes. I would venture to say that Tozer ranks second only to Charles Spurgeon in being quotable and quoted.

The key selling point of this publication is that it contains three books and is hardbound.  It is not bulky or hard to navigate.  I read the first book, then the third one, and finally the middle one.  Typically, Tozer’s chapters average ten pages, so it is a great length for morning reading.

Second, I can see why some Christians would not prefer to read Tozer.  He is not theologically rigorous or technical.  If you are wanted to be grounded in systematic, biblical, or dogmatic theology, his books would not satisfy.  Nor is he exegetical, so that if you are wanting insight into the meaning of passages or books of the Bible, his books would not satisfy.  Nor is he polemical, so that if you are wanting to watch theological jousting and combat, his books would not satisfy.  And one might find the gist of his books to not give enough emphasis on church, covenant community, and weekly worship.  Certainly, those of us who love a Kuyperian embracing of every area of life and thought will find Tozer silent on those matters.

Third, but what Tozer does and does well is to focus on the Christian’s devotional and meditative life.  He rarely quotes other writers, but when he does, he is usually quoting more Medieval and mystic writers.  (No, he is not enough close to being Roman Catholic!)  He is not monastic; in fact, he is critical of any attempt to escape the world as some forms of monastic life emphasized.

He seeks to push Christians toward meditative and intense contemplation of God.  I was surprised at his theological accuracy contained in his otherwise layman-centered writings.  It is obvious that Tozer wants the believer to be grounded and well read in the Bible, for his is not a searching of the inner man for peace and wisdom.  But what he abhors is a sense that we can do our religious duties and rites and then close the book and go about our secular lives.

This personal intensity explains why he is quoted so often.  These three volumes could be reformatted into a book titled The Quotable Tozer and little content would have to be sacrificed.

Fourth, I would not have preferred to have read three Tozer books in a row.  I was compelled to do so for the sake of getting this review done.  It is somewhat like rushing through a meal for whatever reason.  But I do need a dose of Tozer here and there.  Yes, the Puritans are stronger.  Yes, Spurgeon has more with and anecdotes.  Yes, J. I. Packer is a more powerful writer.  But none of that detracts from the reminders and the pressing urgency with which Tozer calls on us to seek after God.

Fifth,  I recently read a comment where a friend and theologian referred to Tozer as one of his favorite non-Calvinistic Calvinist writers.  Tozer was careful to sidestep the old Calvinist-Arminian debates.  In my cage-stage years, I would have gnashed my teeth.  But reading him now, I see the sheer beauty of what we call Calvinism in Tozer’s discussion of God’s work in pursuing us, in changing us, in giving us His Holy Spirit.  I figure my non-Calvinist friends would read him and enjoy those parts and others as well.

So, I recommend that you pull one of your neglected Tozer volumes off the shelf.  Read or reread the whole book, or just read a chapter–any chapter.  Even better, buy this book and have the best of his work all bound together.  Maybe you have a Christian friend who just isn’t going to tackle Calvin’s Institutes or Augustine’s City of God.  Here is a gift for them, but get two copies so that you have one as well.

Three Worthy Reprints–Machen, Kuyper, and Groen Van Prinsterer

You cannot possibly keep up with all of the really fine books that are being written today by serious, capable Christian pastors, teachers, and theologians. I know and experience that frustration constantly.  Besides, theological books are only one component in the vast university of knowledge that many of us need to attend.  Books on history, classics of literature, and political and economic studies abound as well.

The problem gets worse, not better, when we realize that along with the many good books available, there are many older works that simply cannot be neglected.  I don’t have a magical formula for solving either yours or my own reading problems.  The best I can do is to simply plug along, reading a half dozen or so books at a time.  In some cases, I am getting 20 pages read a day, but in other cases, I am getting less than half that amount.  Some get started and set aside, and they may not be picked up for a very long time.  Some get lost in the stacks.  Some seem better suited for a different time.

These are the problems that are associated with modern American abundance.  In some places, books are few and far between.  In some places, serious students have to master a second or third language to access the books readily available to us. We here in the English speaking world are inundated with reading material, and that should make us thankful.  Our thanksgiving should also include giving thanks for the availability of three Reformed classics from three different publishers in recent months.

Christianity & Liberalism: Legacy Edition

It just makes sense that the new Legacy Edition of J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism has been published by Westminster Seminary Press. It was Machen who led the movement that founded Westminster Seminary.  And it was this book, originally published in 1923, that clearly marked the dividing line between the historic and orthodox Christian faith from its deviations of that time.

I first became aware of this book when a college student I knew was reading it for a class by Professor Henry Wood at Texarkana College.  The class was on the second half of American history, so I was puzzled why a “religious book” was being read for the class.  The girl explained that it fit in with what was going on in American history during the time period.  I was pretty sure that I knew a lot about American history, but was clueless about this.

The importance of Machen’s book became clear over the next year or so after I took Professor Wood’s classes.  I cannot remember when I first read Machen myself, but I am certain that I have read this book a couple of times over the years.  The first thing to be clear on is what the Liberalism is that Machen is contrasting with Christianity.  He was not talking about politics of his time or ours.  He was, at the same time, a man of conservative and slightly libertarian political convictions.  In this book, however, he was dealing with theological liberalism.  The liberals, or higher critics, were embracing modern thought, Darwinian naturalism, and then-current scientific beliefs with reckless abandon.  Their heirs are still among us.

This book laid down the distinction between what Christians have historically believed and what the Liberals were proposing.  Machen’s contention was that their beliefs were not simply another brand or way of thinking Christianly, but that they were positing an entirely different religion.

Adding the value of this new edition is a section called “The Legacy of Christianity and Liberalism by the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary.”  This consists of some 17 short essays on different aspects of Machen’s work.  So, don’t just rush out and find an older copy of this book or pull your copy off the shelf, get this new work.

Lectures on Calvinism

Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper has also been around in many editions for many years.  This new edition, published by New Liberty Mission and distributed by American Vision, has been modified slightly to improve readability. Don’t worry, for this is not a paraphrase or abridgement of the original book.  It is a translation that has some slight changes in punctuation along with some much needed footnotes.  Kuyper gave these lectures in 1898.  He refers to many things in his time that we are not generally aware of.

This book is the foundational read for each and every book that seeks to present a “Christian Worldview.”  It is astounding how prevalent that phrase is now.  When I was a young pup, very few people would have used that phrase or known what it meant.  Interestingly, Kuyper actually used a phrase that is translated “Life and World System.”

This book stumped me some years ago because I quickly grew used to equating Calvinism with “the Five Points of Calvinism.”  I was devouring everything I could find on understanding and defending those Five Points.  But Kuyper’s lectures had six points, and there was no TULIP or similarly description of Calvinistic soteriology.

Many, although fewer than in the past, stumble, balk, snort and kick, and object to the word “Calvinism” itself.  When Kuyper gave these lectures at Princeton in 1898, people of varying theological positions knew exactly what he meant by the term and how he was using it.  Especially at Princeton Theological Seminary, the use of the term Calvinism was helpful shorthand for a system of beliefs, more or less articulated by Calvin and his heirs.

In our day, the controversy over the contents of this book revolve around what is called the “Two Kingdoms Theology” and its counter-part, which is often referred to as Kuyperian theology or Augustinian theology.  There are plenty of books to read on this where you can witness the clash of swords as Calvinist battles Calvinist (or Lutheran battles Calvinist).  For a short, sweet deathblow to the Two Kingdoms view, read Brian Mattson’s Cultural Amnesia.

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I have read and used Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism many times.  I have several editions of it, as well as Peter Helsam’s Creating a Christian Worldview (written about Kuyper’s book), Kuyper in America (about Kuyper’s experiences while here in the States giving the lectures), and a Dutch edition of the book.

This book is critical to all who are teaching in Christian schools.  This book is valuable to all pastors and teachers in the church.  This book is necessary for us in our times as we struggle to figure out how to have a Christian influence on our culture.

Unbelief and Revolution is by Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer and is translated by Harry Van Dyke.  The book is published by Lexham Classics.

I first encountered Unbelief and Revolution many years ago when there were only two portions of it available in English. Groen (which would translate as Green in English) was largely unknown in America both in the theological and historical worlds.  I suspect that is still the case, although less so and to our shame since his works are much more available in English.

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Groen is the Dutch counterpart to Edmund Burke when it comes to the French Revolution.  Meaning, the French Revolution is often heralded as a great event in history, a liberating event, a demolishing of old and antiquated ways, and of establishing a new order.  Sure, there was an excess of beheadings, but as Lenin would later say, “To make an omelet, you must break some eggs.”

I realize at this point that this book sounds like a work of specialized interest for students of history.  It is that, but it is more.  Groen was not giving a history of the French Revolution, but was examining its cultural, philosophical, and theological underpinnings.  If nothing else, this work helps teach us to go beyond mastering the facts and trying to discern the foundational beliefs in a movement.  And, this is not a simplistic “Christians didn’t pray enough” approach to what was a world-wide revolution.

Translator Harry Van Dyke writes in the Introduction:  “The central message of the book is that the French Revolution is not actually over but lives on in its ideas, and these ideas are dangerous for society.  This book makes a compelling case for challenging the ‘permanent revolution’ in which Western Civilization has engaged since the 18th Century Enlightenment.  Our culture, according to Groen, is increasingly in the grip of an intellectual and spiritual revolution that has put secular humanism in the saddle and repeatedly wreaks havoc with the created order for humanity and society.”

On the cover of the book is a short statement from George Harinck saying, “Very relevant for today.”

I would love to take (or teach) a course on the revolutions of the 18th–20th centuries.  I would require that James Billington’s Fire in the Minds of Men and Crane Brinton’s Anatomy of Revolution be required reading, but first on the list would be Groen van Prinsterer’s Unbelief and Revolution.

Get and read these great reprints!

 

Reason and Worldviews by Owen Anderson

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First, I must begin with a warning:  Do not attempt to read Reason and Worldviews with decaf or weak coffee.  Make it stronger than usual.  Avoid distractions.  Don’t confuse this book for a morning devotional.

Reason and Worldviews is by Owen Anderson, assistant professor of Integrative Studies at Arizona State University.  It is published by University Press of America.  It bears the very descriptive subtitle Warfield, Kuyper, Van Til and Plantiga on the Clarity of General Revelation and Function of Apologetics.  

Often my book reviews are tied to some experience I have had in my life.  In this case, I read a couple of essays around the years 2008 and 2009 that rekindled my interest in my first experiences in confronting Calvinistic or Reformed theology.  On the one hand, there were those many Bible flipping evenings where I was reading Boettner, Pink, Steele and Thomas, and others and looking up the proof texts for Calvinistic soteriology or views of salvation.  But prior to those experiences and subsequent to them as well were explorations into the Calvinistic worldview.

It was first introduced to me with the German word Weltanschauung.  That mouthful was explained as meaning a world and life view or a comprehensive view of all things from a particular viewpoint.  God grabbed me by the mind and did not let me go.  I had the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, but the life of the mind was pretty mushy, vague, and vulnerable.  A Fifth Column of Presbyterian and Reformed warriors, including Gregg Singer, R. J. Rushdoony, Gordon Clark, Francis Nigel Lee, H. Van Reissen, and Phillip Edgecombe Hughes sidetracked me and forever changed my way of thinking.

That was the 1970’s and it was, to repeat myself, the years 2007 and 2008 when I re-engaged with the thinking that had created this initial effect.  There were men, like those mentioned above, who were not exactly the public intellectuals because most of the world–both secular and religious–either did not know they existed or they ignored them.  But they reached a remnant of thinkers, and like a stone tossed in a pond, the ripple effect spread out widely.

I had the opportunity to give a series of talks in Newport Newes, Virginia and later in Alaska in 2008.  My series in Virginia was titled “Calvinistic Worldview Thinkers During the Wilderness Years,” and in Alaska, my topic was “Dutch Worldview Thinkers.”  I loved the subject (if I may call it that) and have continued to read on the various influential Reformed theologians and philosophers who have grappled with the issues of modern thought.

When I first saw the title and subtitle of Reason and Worldviews, I was sold on the book.  Being a more specialized monograph, it bears a high, but not prohibited price.  So, it took me a while to get the book, and this past few weeks, I have been reading it.

The word “Apologetics,” which appears in the subtitle, is a rather broad word within Christian thought.  I have and have read dozens of books on apologetics, which is the field of defending the Christian faith.  Many books focus on the range of arguments Christians confront in the classroom, in conversations, and in our culture.  Hence, such books teach provide us foundations for believing the Bible, answering objections, and dealing with stumbling blocks to the faith.

This book, however, is dealing with much more difficult issues.  Christian theology has not merely brushed up against the field of philosophy, but has confronted and, we might say to some degree, converted it.  Or at least, it has taken thought captive–as Paul admonishes us to do in II Corinthians 10:5.  For many years, Princeton Theological Seminary was the center of Christian philosophical thought as well as theological thought.  Harvard had caved;  Harvard Divinity School hired Ralph Waldo Emerson to teach whatever it was that he believed.  Yale had waffled.  Princeton stood as the bulwark of Christian thought.

Truth doesn’t change, but the way we present the truth changes.  We teach our young children truths, but we expand and adapt these truths to fit their minds and lives as they grow up.  The issues confronting Princeton changed through the years, and sad to admit, but Princeton changed as well.  That is another story, but as long as the Hodges and later Benjamin Warfield occupied key positions, Princeton was a ruling force.

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield is the key Christian theologian/philosopher in this study.  He wrote on a wide range of theological topics, although many have lamented that he never compiled all of his thinking into a systematic theology.  To some degree, this has been remedied by Fred G. Zaspel’s book The Theology of B. B. Warfield.

In Anderson’s study, Warfield is examined for his approach to the issue of how we know God, how we interpret revelation of God, and to what degree man is excusable or inexcusable from life experiences.

Warfield had a beloved friend and fellow theologian across the pond named Abraham Kuyper.  Kuyper was a key figure in the theological and political world of the Netherlands.  He was invited by Warfield to give the Stone Lectures for the year 1898.  Those lectures were published and have been reprinted many times under the title Lectures on Calvinism. While Warfield and Kuyper could walk arm in arm on many issues, they had different approaches to apologetics and how unbelievers were to be confronted and held accountable.

 

In time, a young Dutchman and immigrant to America, attempted to bring the differences of Warfield and Kuyper together.  His name was Cornelius Van Til, and he is well known in Calvinistic circles for presuppositional apologetics.  For many, Van Til has provided the definitive and last word on apologetics and how the unbeliever thinks and/or suppresses the truth.  At the same time, in good old Calvinistic fashion, some fellow believers rank Van Til’s thinking somewhere below that of Joel Osteen.

Others have grappled with these issues as well.  Two of the big names in Christian philosophy in our day are Nicholas Wolterstorf and Alvin Plantinga.  Plantiga has promoted the position that Christian belief in God is warranted belief.  In other words, we Christians are just a bunch of simple minded crazies. (Okay, well some of us are, but not all.)

Each variety of thought–Warfield’s, Kuyper’s, Van Til’s, and Plantiga’s–has attempted to deal with some difficult issues, and each has its limitations.  As a way of bridging some of the gaps here, Anderson proposes that we seriously examine the much neglected idea of Natural Theology.  In his conclusion, he brings us back to Warfield who was, in many ways, closer to the answers found in Natural Theology, than some of the others.

“Ben,” you ask, “Do you even know what you are talking about?”  Okay, I admit it.  I walked out to the pool expecting to wade, but I got thrown into the deep end–again.  Owen Anderson is not teaching basic swimming lessons.  He had to pull me out of the water several times, in fact.  But he ends each chapter with a series of questions.  On my next reading, I want to have those questions in view as I read.  And he includes a really useful glossary of terms and key people mentioned in the book.

This is not, as I said above, a morning devotional.  Nor is it a fast, once through and then shelve, book.  Who needs it then?  First, people like my son Nick and many others I know who study philosophy, but who have a theological grounding.  Second, pastors and teachers who need to branch out beyond their sermon helps.  Third, Christians who have been given the blessings and gifts of the enjoying the life of themind.  Fourth, me.

I deeply love Warfield, Kuyper, and Van Til.  I suspect that the more read of Plantiga, the more I will love him.  But this is more than just hero worship (of which I am often guilty).  There is the great concept of “Glorifying God and Enjoying Him Forever.”  Forever doesn’t begin when we arrive in heaven.  Enjoying God–even to the extent that it means examing the heights and depths of philosophy and theology–begins now.

 

A Godward Gaze: The Holy Pursuit of John Calvin by David S. Steele

When a book ministers to us is as important as how it ministers to us.  Just as some sermons strike some of us as adequate but are life changing to others.  So it is with books.  At this age and stage of life, I read many books that are merely affirming what I have long since believed.  Of course, the reminders are good, and every book will reveal some aspect of a truth or event that I did not know.

This brings us to my discussion of a new, brief book titled A Godward Gaze: The Holy Pursuit of John Calvin by David S. Steele.  

My knowledge of John Calvin began in the fall of 1974 when I was taking an American history course.  The professor, who was both a well read history teacher and pastor, lectured on the role Calvin and Calvinism played in the settlement of the American colonies.  He also assigned a book for us to read titled John Calvin: His Roots and Fruits by C. Gregg Singer.

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This book changed my life in numerous ways.  It humbled and, in fact, humiliated me as a pseudo-reader and history student.  It reworked the way my mind handled thought and reading material.  And it challenged my whole way of thinking about religion.  My initial conclusions were that Calvinism impacted early American history and that it was wrong.

I remember finding a book in the college library that brought me great consolation.  I don’t remember the title, but it assured me that the God of Calvin was not at all like Jesus.  I found peace, but only for a season.  In short, by the summer of 1975, I was in full scale retreat from Calvinism, and before the summer was over, I had been defeated and enlisted in the other side.

Singer’s book was a study of the impact of Calvin on various areas of life and thought and on various nations and cultures.  I had never thought of Christianity being anything beyond religious and heart practices and moral values.  Book after book followed, but mainly what happened was that I became a Berean without knowing it.  Let’s just say that if you are going to be a Calvinist, you better be a Berean first and foremost.

It was another David Steele, along with co-author Curtis Thomas, who helped cement some life-changing doctrines into my life and mind through their compendium of Scriptures and historic testimonies of the Calvinistic doctrines.  Their book was titled The Five Points of Calvinism:  Defined, Defended, and Documented.  It is still in print in a much expanded edition.

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What I needed then and what David S. Steele has provided now is a look at another and very indispensable part of theology:  Holiness and Christian living.  My main criticism of A Godward Gaze is that it appeared some 45 plus years later than it should have.  I needed this book in 1974 and 1975, while I was struggling with finding the proof texts of the Five Points or trying to answer this or that objection.

A Godward Gaze is not a biography of John Calvin.  It does contain many biographical details, beginning with a sketch of his life and conversion.  Nor is this book a defining, defending, or documenting account of the major teachings of Calvinism.  It does contain many points that are built upon Calvinistic, and we believe, Scriptural presuppositions.  This book is what is says:  A look at how Calvin the man, among others, looked to God for personal sustenance and faith.

Let’s emphasize what is vital for both John Calvin and others who are Christians:  John Calvin loved the Lord Jesus Christ.  Yes, Calvin was logical, theologically rigorous, strong-armed when dealing with heretics, moody on occasion, afflicted in personality especially when overwhelmed by physical ailments and physical enemies, and fallible.  He was a sinner saved by grace.  He was also a man that God raised up and equipped to teach others.

The story of Calvinism is sometimes thought of as having three branches:  Docts, Kuyps, and Piets.  The Docts are those who gravitate toward theological doctrines; the Kuyps are those who follow Abraham Kuyper and seek to think in terms of a Christian worldview; and the Piets are those who emphasize Christian piety.  (I think D. H. Hart may be the one who devised this way of viewing Reformed folk.)  There need not be a decision made as to which we should choose.  All three are part of the full-orbed Christian life.

The focus, however, of A Godward Gaze is on the life of holy, dedicated pursuit of God.  The many people who are approvingly quoted in this book, including John Bunyan, John Newton, Steven Lawson, John Frame, and others, are in sync on the need for Christians to have a Godward and God-centered gaze and pursuit in their lives.

So, I needed this book 45 years ago.  Thankfully, I did get enough exposure from preaching and reading to offset some of my Calvinistic cage-stage zeal.  I suspect that the holiness centered thrust of this book would have been as puzzling to me for a time as was other theological revolutions I was experiencing.

Even today, people who define themselves or who are defined by others as Calvinists need this book.  I certainly do wish to better understand and explain the extent of the atonement to people around me, but it is more important that I am focused on the unlimited grace that God shows sinners and has shown me. Calvinistic youth can be snotty, if they work a bit on doctrine.  Calvinistic churches can be a bit stuffy.  Calvinist thinkers can be condescending.  It is not that such behavior reflects badly on John Calvin, but rather that it reflects badly on Calvin’s Savior.

Maybe the book is both 45 years late and just right in time for me.  I heartily recommend this to you.

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