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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Edwards–Recent Books on His Life and Thought


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing

Having become acquainted with Jay Stringer, I was able to receive a copy of his book Unwanted: How Sexual Brokenness Reveals Our Way to Healing.  It is published by NavPress.  It can be purchased from Hearts and Minds Books, which is where I first learned of this book.

Let’s just be honest:  I did not want to read this book and I didn’t like it.  For that reason, I highly recommend it.  I even think I need to read it again.  I certainly believe that pastors, counselors, school teachers, and many other folks should read it as well.

Here is why I didn’t like it:  I would really like to think and believe that sexual brokenness (which includes pornography use, sexual addiction, abuse from the past, marital unfaithfulness, etc.) didn’t exist.  Or, at least I would like to think that it only hits a few folks, especially those who are far from having any semblance of Christian or traditional values.  I prefer for such talk and topics to be out of sight and out of mind.  Let’s just think of good things instead.

But I have served as a pastor and elder in a church. I have taught students.  I have family, friends, and community.  I have been awake and sometimes brutally awakened.  People you and I know have been broken by sexual problems.  Damaged people, hurting families, fill our churches, sit in our classrooms desks, gather with us on holidays, cross paths with us daily, and live next door to us.  Some of the sexually broken and hurt people look at some of you from the mirror each day.

This is not a “some are weak and some are strong” issue.  We are all fragile pottery.  It you have not been cracked, broken, chipped, or shattered, it is only because God has graciously protected you on the shelf.  But some who are whole are perilously close to the edge of the shelf.  There is not falling and surviving.

I often say and truly believe that Sigmund Freud was one of the greatest blessings given to the Christian church.  I believe that he was wrong in his presuppositions, wrong in his overall worldview, badly wrong in his rejection of God, and wrong in his prescriptions.  But he did awaken the world to the impact of the subconscious, the role of memories, the impact of experiences (particularly bad and sexually warped experiences), and the connection of the psyche to the body and soul.

Jay Stringer “is a licensed mental health counselor, ordained minister, and nationally requested speaker on the subject of unwanted sexual behavior (i.e., extra-marital affairs, pornography, buying sex, and others).”  The book is based on many experiences in dealing with counselees and on research he conducted using responses from around 3,800 people.  He has not sat in a tower thinking through these matters, although he has given the contents lots of thought.  This man speaks from the trenches.

I wish I could compare this book with others on the same problems and compare its pro’s and con’s.  Dr. Dan Allender says that this book is “without rival, the best book on broken sexuality I have read.”  For me, and this is public confession of a pastoral sin, this is the first book I have read on this topic.  But again to call on church and Christian leaders, we need to be reading these kinds of unpleasant books.  Sure, there is someone in the church who is wanting some theological advice about the end times, but there are many people, I would venture to say, in every church who is or has been or will be damaged by sexual problems.

An emphasis of this book is that the church or community has to do more than just call down judgment on sinful behavior.  That being said, yes, we have to be faithful to the Scriptures and call sin what it is.  We have to preach repentance, a changed life, confession of sins, and restoration.  But the damaged people need more.  People with bad marriages or who have children running wild need more than an exhortation or rebuke from the pulpit.  Christian living is more putting on than putting off.  It may take 10 years to correct 5 years of bad marriage.  If a married couple both grew up in bad marriages, it might take longer.  The same is true for sexual brokenness.  It is not a case of “one repentance fits and cures all.”  Discipleship is a not a one-time treatment.

Much is often said about accountability partners for people struggling with sexual sins.  While there are benefits to such approaches, Stringer emphasizes how more is needed than someone to be your personal priest for confessional (that is my description).  People have to find renewed life, involvement, goals, dreams, and action pulling and pushing them toward these changes.

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There is no way I would set up myself as one ready to help others in this field.  Anytime when I was a pastor and we were dealing with brokenness, I felt so empty and helpless.  But being unequipped is unacceptable for the pastor, the teacher, and the concerned Christian.

As long as we are in a sinful world, we are going to have to confront books and topics we don’t like.  Yes, I didn’t like this book.  It is really good.  Get it and read it.

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Atheism On Trial by Louis Markos

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Atheism On Trial, written by Louis Markos, is published by Harvest House Publishers.  It came out this year–2018.

Louis Markos is a delightfully deceptive man.  On the one hand, he is lively–as in bouncing off the walls, full of energy, laughing and talking non-stop in his lectures.  He loves Lewis and Tolkien; he loves literature; he loves talking about his love of Lewis, Tolkien, and literature.  As such, he is God’s gift of an energy burst to an often weary Christian community.  I could never have trouble staying awake when he is talking.

On the other hand, he is a deeply read and careful scholar.  Yes, he can take you on a running tour of Narnia and Middle Earth, but he can also discuss the ancient Greeks, modern skeptics, and post-modern philosophers. Over the past several years, I have had an increasing appreciation for Markos’ work after having read his books, listened to him lecture, and met him in person.

Atheism, as a belief system and what is even a religious belief system, has had a pretty favorable run over the past few years.  When I was in school as a student, the premier American atheist spokesperson was Madalyn Murray O’Hair.  She was quite an obnoxious figure and a loud mouth that was an easy target for many.  Her legal battles yielded some fruit such as getting prayer out of the public schools.  As far as presenting a real threat to religious belief, whether merely believing in a Deity or believing in Christianity, O’Hair was fluff.  I sure there were better representatives of the cause of atheism.  Also, that was an age where Communism was a real fear, and atheism is a bedrock doctrine for true followers of Marx.

In recent years, several key figures have emerged as the public intellectual atheists for our time.  The late Christopher Hitchens was one of the best.  Cynical, droll, witty, and unswerving, he was a strong force.  On many occasions he locked horns with Christian theists and was the type of man who elicited admiration even from those who did not agree with him.  On the front lines more often has been Richard Dawkins.  Along with Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, these men have been able to “make atheism a household word” (page 11).

While it is probably a little more easy to embrace atheism in our day, I don’t find it a force to either fear or to confront very often.  All my life–living in the rural Southern Bible Belt–I have been surrounded by plenty of people who have had weird views of God, unbiblical notions of God, inconsistent views of God, heretical views of God, and unclear views of God.  But I am not sure I could name five people who I actually and personally know who are atheists.  Of course, along with living in the Bible Belt, I have worked in a Christian school for more than two decades and served as a pastor and church leader that long as well.  In other words, I am far from the madding crowd.

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I figure that I am about as likely to confront a grizzly bear as an atheist.  In one case, I would run as fast as I could, but in the other would like just stand and stare in puzzlement.  Part of my problem is best explained by G. K. Chesterton.  In his delightful book Orthodoxy, he wrote,

“It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it.  But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it.”

So, I do not believe in God because of the cosmological argument, the moral argument, the ontological argument, the argument from design, or any other traditional defense of theism.  While not convinced by any of them, I feel quite confirmed by all of them.  I also find Cornelius Van Til’s transcendental argument compelling.  I think Greg Bahnsen’s use of that argument in the famous Bahnsen-Stein debate was a work of art.  I am strengthened and blessed by Gordon Clark’s foundational premise that the Bible is the Word of God and find that to be a sufficient and convincing case.  I find pragmatic arguments convincing.  I find Pascal’s Wager acceptable. I find God with my limited use of rational faculties; I find God with all empirical evidence; I think logic proves God; I think history proves God.  I think I was convinced of God’s existence from the earliest days of my life.  The fact that my environment produced my beliefs presents no concern for me.

Obviously, the way I think and who I am and how I came to be who I am is different than the experiences of others.  And I do believe it is important for Christians to be well armed, grounded, briefed, and trained to understand atheism.

Despite the many new and somewhat formidable spokespersons (what a clunky word) for atheism, it is not the new kid on the block.  Also, there are not conditions–scientific or evolutionary or intellectual–that explain why atheism is more adequate an explanation for reality today than it would have been in the past.

This is the primary strength of Markos’ Atheism on Trial.  Dr. Markos devotes the bulk of the book to going after the long tradition of arguments and proponents of atheists.  He starts where all debates within Western Civilization start–with the Greeks and the Romans.  If anyone thinks that all ancient folk believed in gods or God or mystical forces, they have not read the homework.  All through the centuries there have been some hombres who have dug in against theism, miracles, absolute truths, the universe having a beginning, and other points of contention.

If I were to make one major change to the cover of the book, it would be to have and highlight the words from Ecclesiastes:  “There is nothing new under the sun.”  But while the arguments against Theism are not new, there is always the need for us to either know the rebuttals or know where to find them.

Recommended Titles by Louis Markos:

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Eternity Is Now In Session by John Ortberg

“When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!”  True words.  Praise God for all the promises regarding everlasting life, heaven, being with Christ, being glorified, and so.  But John Ortberg’s book Eternity is Now in Session seeks to correct an error or oversight or, maybe, wrongful emphasis. Christians can be saved, in Christ, and believing right things, but still get the priorities and details confused.

Eternity is Now in Session by John Ortberg is published by Tyndale Press and came out this year.

“What if salvation is not about getting us into heaven, but about getting heaven into us?” Pastor Ortberg asks.  The title itself was inspired, as is much of Ortberg’s work, by Dallas Willard.  The gist of the book is about discipleship.  As indicated already, “getting saved” or getting eternal fire insurance is not what Christianity is all about.  Thank God for those cases of contrary folks who linger on their death beds and find the grace of God as life lingers away. But that is not the ideal.  For years, many have been trying to awaken the Church from resting content with professions of faith.  Life and obedience, transformation, Christian living, growing in grace–these are the needed elements.

From beginning to end, this book is a strong exhortation to not be fooled by mere profession, but to actually follow Christ.  I will share a few key portions of the book that I made note of.

“Jesus didn’t tell his friends, ‘Go into all the world and make Christians.’ But he did tell them to go into the world and make disciples. In fact, the Bible uses the word disciple 269 times.  As Dallas Willard writes, ‘The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples.'”  page 50  (Note this: Ortberg quotes Dallas Willard many, many times in this book.)

“Jesus never said, ‘Believe the right things about me, and I’ll let you into heaven after you die.’ His news was something far grander, more cosmic, more life-changing, more compelling, and more humbling than that.”  page 51

On page 61, another Willard quote:  “There is no problem in human life that apprenticeship to Jesus cannot solve.”  Then Ortberg shows how wide-ranging his view of the Gospel is as he lists problems:  “You name the problem–greed, fear, racism, injustice, divorce, sexual assault, neglect, pollution, suffering, addiction, rejection, bitterness, violence, apathy, grief, war, death.”

Concerning religious experiences and awakening, he writes, “…awakening is not just something that happens to us at the beginning of our spiritual lives.  We need awakening each day.”  page 96

One of the most brilliant quotes that Ortberg uses comes from Dr. Vincent Felitti who wrote about addiction saying, “It is hard to get enough of something that almost works.”  Not that this book is about addiction (of any and all sorts) per se, this is a remarkable insight into all manner of sinful draws, which Ortberg, echoing the Bible, calls idols.  Pages 100-101

“To have saving faith is not to believe the minimum amount so God has to let you in.  To have saving faith is to believe what Jesus himself believed, to see what Jesus himself saw, so that you naturally do what Jesus himself would do.”  page 137

Something I am going to try to remember next time I am involved in a wedding (or even a discussion about marriage) is this point:  “A couple gets married and the minister says, ‘The two shall become one’–but which one? I want it to be me.” Page 157. His point is that the same thing tends to happen in regard to God.  We want union, but we want it to mean that God is doing what I want.

This book is a step by step progression through the Gospel and what should and must be its impact on our lives.  Starting with what the Good News actually means, it takes us to the topic of awakening to God being everywhere.  A chapter called Purgation deals with the painful, but necessary work of sanctification and the abandoning of sins and idols.  Illumination reminds us that need to have our minds enlightened at every step. The final chapter on union reminds us that we are never alone, that union with God is the goal both here and in the future heavenly eternity.

Going back through this book, which I read twice, reminds me that almost every page includes a great quote, an exhortation, an application of a Bible truth.  This book is great for morning devotions.  It would also work well for a study group, a class, or one-on-one discipleship.  This is the second book I have read by Ortberg, and he has quickly risen in the ranks to be a much favored writer for me.




The Biblical Philosophy of History by R. J. Rushdoony

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Two things I do not get to do often enough:  Re-read books and write reviews of older books.  The pressure is always on to get the latest review copies of new books read and posted.  I am almost always about 20 books behind.  But I did recently venture out to re-read a book that I first read over 30 years ago, I think.  And I will discuss it below.

The book is The Biblical Philosophy of History by Rousas John Rushdoony.  The book is, thankfully, still available from Ross House Books, the primary source for Rushdoony’s works.  Out of the many volumes of RJR’s books, this is one I rarely see quoted or talked about.  That is, until recently when I read a scathing review of it that mentioned that I had talked of this book on my blog.  (I don’t rememeber or find where I referenced this book.)

I first read this in the early days of my pilgrimage that involved wilderness wanderings through the world of intellectual Calvinist worldview thinkers, history, theology, and entering the teaching profession.  I know that when I was reading Rushdoony back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that I was often lost as to what he was saying.  I reached the point where I was on his level around…well, I have never reached his level, to tell the truth.  But I do understand more than I used to.

Let’s begin with this issue:  Why is Rushdoony so often disregarded or purposely ignored, or scorned?  Rushdoony wrote lots of books.  They are still being published, long after his death.  He gave many spoken messages.  He was almost never predictable or prone to giving the status quo interpretations of events. When he was wrong, he could be terribly wrong.  When he was informed and grounded, he could terribly frightening.  Many a smart-aleck lawyer got his come-uppence from stepping into the squared ring with Rushdoony during his testimony in favor of home schoolers.  The guy was far better read than his contemporaries and had a remarkable memory of what he had read.

Rushdoony’s “problem” was that he didn’t fit.  He writes a book about history in this case.  He actually wrote at least five books on historical issues.  But he was not a historian in either the professional or traditional sense.  RJR’s taped lectures include 3 series on history.  My favorite is his World History series.  He would nonchalantly mention having read a half dozen biographies on a particular person as he mentioned them in passing.  Had he had the modern discipline and focus and academic narrowness, he could have been the leading (fill in the blank) historian on a particular topic.  The world of academia is missing the definitive account of tariff issues in post-colonial European trade wars because RJR refused to specialize.  (He did write, according to an Andrew Sandlin, a study of noses!)

So, Rushdoony appeared as an expert on history, much to the disgruntlement of the professional historians.  They often, by the way, disdain Paul Johnson and other popular historians.  Even David McCullough is suspect because his books are best sellers.  “Who is this Bible thumping preacher with a funny name acting like an expert in history? Get thee to a religion department!”

And wouldn’t it be nice if RJR had just been a convention preacher or theology teacher?  But he was salt in the wounds of theological types as well.  So, instead of neatly fitting into the category of a historian or a preacher, he was the proverbial square peg that wouldn’t fit into either round hole.  The same thing happened when he ventured into philosophy or other disciplines.  At the end of The Biblical Philosophy of History, he talks about this problem.  A fellow pastor had written to RJR and suggested that he should not use the pulpit and his role as a pastor to talk about economics.

Rushdoony was not one to be cowed into staying put in a compartmentalized view of ministry.  Repeatedly, he emphasized that God was sovereign over every area of life and thought.  Then he proceeded to apply that concept to every area of life and thought.  Rushdoony was a polymath and widely copious reader.  He loved reading for its own sake, but he was always filtering what he read through his theological grid.  “How does this book, idea, concept square up with Scripture?’ was the guiding principle of his reading.

Many of Rushdoony’s earlier books grew out of grants and commissions to produce studies on particular topics.  He was generally more the essayist rather than the writer who would develop a book on a specific topic.  By that, I mean that his books consisted of essays on different angles of an issue and could often be read out of order in his books.  The Biblical Philosophy of History was published in 1969 and contained no introductory material indicating a theme or design overall in the book.  Instead, some 15 essays (two of which appear as appendices) were put together under the topic of history.  Perhaps, the collection should have had a less bold title and been something like Essays on History.  

Instead, the title of the book is derived from the title of the first essay.  The foundation of that first essay is the doctrine of creation.  “Basic to the Biblical philosophy is the doctrine of creation,” Rushdoony says.  Then he goes on to list and detail the implications of God being the creator in terms of nine propositions.  These propositions provide an outlook on the most fundamental meaning of history and all of life.  The chapter is, in short, a systematic theology, a worldview, an epistemology, a philosophy, and/or a set of governing principles for all of life.

The second chapter develops the theme of victory in history, which is a powerful aspect of not just Rushdoony’s eschatology.  But that is not to say that only post-millennial Christians would appreciate the chapter.  Rushdoony goes on to analyze different theological/philosophical concepts in terms of their relationship to history.  These studies include examinations of time, regeneration, truth, the incarnation, the virgin birth, and natural theology. Needless to say, the college classes that I took on American, British, and Russian history did not have any overlaps with the course of Rushdoony’s writings.

Published at the end of the 1960’s, Rushdoony was addressing many of the fads, fears, and fallacies of his time.  Therefore, some of the concerns or issues are no longer around or are not being posed in the same manner.  But that is the nature of all writing.  What abides is the Biblical insights into life, history, and culture that Rushdoony asserts.

Rushdoony’s premises are all developed out of his Calvinistic theology.  This book was part of a series called the International Library of Philosophical and Historical Studies, published by the Craig Press.  Actually, the series was published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, but the name Craig Press was used to help the studies gain entrance in non-Presbyterian and/or Reformed college settings.  I have written often on the plethora of great books that grew out of Craig Press and largely out of the team work of Rushdoony and publisher Charles Craig.  (See James Jordan, The Closing of the Calvinist Mind” for a brilliant discussion on this topic).

Rushdoony was well aware of historical philosophies that were either opposed to his views or were compatible but not identical.  He was well versed in the Catholic philosophy of history as elaborated by Christopher Dawson (and it was from Rushdoony that I first learned of Dawson). He had read extensively from  Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy.  Ernst Kantorowicz had been one of Rushdoony’s instructors and was a major influence on him.  Of course, as he intimates in this book, the “obvious answer, given by Christian faith” was found in the writings of Christian apologist Cornelius Van Til and Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd.  Having rubbed shoulders with quite a few leading conservative thinkersin the 1950s and 60s, Rushdoony was less inclined to accept the views found in the emerging conservative intellectual movement.  (RJR could not stand Russell Kirk, for example, and he gives his a good lashing in this book.)

For the aspiring historian, there are better books that deal with Christian approaches to historical studies, or with the influence of Christians on historical events, or with the history of the Church or particular churches.  This book is not a simple “how to” book, but one that will challenge the reader to think on the connections between the Bible and theology in relationship to history.  As for the now defunct idea that Rushdoony was battling, the connection has to be made between the enemies of the Faith today and the Biblical answers.  Where Rushdoony does not or might not supply the ready made answer, by his reading and primarily by his approach to the Bible, he does give us the method for these times and all times.

The Final Race–The World War II Story of Eric Liddell

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It was 1981 and I was coaxed into going to the movies.  I–both then and now–rarely submit to going out to the movie theater to watch anything.  Several times when I have learned of movies that sound really good, I skip them.  Hence, I watched Dunkirk after it came out on a DVD.  And I never watched Valkyrie or Darkest Hour.  But a group of friends (who were also fellow church members) persuaded me to branch out on that night back in 1981.

The movie was Chariots of Fire.  It was primarily the story of Eric Liddell and his refusal to run on a Sunday at the 1924 Olympics.  The parallel plot was about Harold Abrahams who was fighting his own battles of culture along with attempting to achieve the brief fame found on the fields of sport.  As a movie, it was outstanding in terms of casting, plot development, story lines, and even music.  To this day, watching the young Olympians running along the sand of the beach with the theme music playing is captivating.

For many a Christian, the movie moved an obscure figure in recent church history to the forefront.  Eric Liddell was no Hollywood creation.  He was the real McCoy.  He was the model Scotsman with the looks, wit, accent, and personality to win over many a fan.  Decades after the cheers for this Scottish hero had ceased to be heard, he was again being cheered across the land.  Although the producers, directors, and actors were not seeking to make a Christian or religious film, this one resonated across the evangelical land.

Regretfully, it did next to nothing in terms of reviving any efforts to hold on any remaining fragments of Sunday as a day of worship.  Culturally speaking, that issue is gone.  Those who wish to weigh in on that issue are welcome.  I confess that I am as muddled about the “Christian Sabbath” now as I was 30 years ago.

Books appeared that told the story of Eric Liddell.  One that I read and enjoyed quite a bit was The Flying Scotsman by Sally Magnusson.  A more recent biography of Liddell is For the Glory by Duncan Hamilton.

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For the Glory: The Untold and Inspiring Story of Eric Liddell, Hero of Chariots of Fire  -     By: Duncan Hamilton

Not only was the movie correct–in the main–about the 1924 Olympics and Liddell’s triumph–it was correct about the character and faith of the man himself.  But the movie only told one part of the amazing story of this man’s life.  Liddell left Scotland a few years after winning gold medals at the Olympics and “joined the family business” of doing missionary work in China.

There were a number of foreign missions that labored among the Chinese people up until Mao Zedong and the Communists took control of the country.  The British were among the numbers of those carrying the Gospel to China.  Stories of such missionaries as Hudson Taylor, Jonathan Goforth, and Lottie Moon (from the U.S.) are part of the rich heritage of Chinese missions.  Edith Schaeffer (wife of Francis Schaeffer) grew up in the mission field of China.  Nobel Prize winning author Pearl S. Buck was also a product of a missionary family to China (who unfortunately eschewed her heritage).

No doubt, there were Chinese people who came to know Christ and lived and died in the faith because of the many mission efforts.  The greater harvest seems to be in our own times where word keeps slipping out of a large house church movement in that vast and populous land.

Among the many obstacles to working in China was the invasion of that country by the Japanese in the years before World War II officially began.  In a World War that spawned such concepts as fire bombing, the Holocaust, genocide (although it was far from the first), unmanned missiles, and nuclear weapons, the Japanese committed plain old fashioned evil, horrifying acts of terror on the Chinese population.  (Even officials from the Third Reich of Hitler were appalled by the actions of the Japanese.)

We often forget that when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, they also launched attacks on a number of British held possessions in Asia.  Thus, Eric Liddell and many others who were already in jeopardy by serving in a war zone were now the enemy.  The Japanese herded the foreign nationals into camps.  While the Japanese captors were not seeking to purposely inflict maximum pain and misery on the inhabitants, they weren’t very nice either.  Generally, the camps were overcrowded and under-supplied.

Camp life for the British and others threatened constantly to become a hell on earth.  The saving feature in these camps was the salt and light provided by Christians.  Foremost among the Christian leaders was Eric Liddell.  How many converts he won when he was speaking back in Scotland in his athletic heyday is unknown.  How many Chinese he discipled while he was being a teacher and preacher in pre-World War II China is unknown.  How many people he ministered to in the camp is, likewise, unknown.  But I suspect that his worst days were his best.  The testimonies that have survived through the years attest to him being one who was quick to help, slow to anger, willing to serve, and happy to sacrifice for others.

His “final race,” his time in the camps are an incredible testimony to Eric Liddell’s life.  The sequel to his Olympic races outshone what he did on the track.  This amazing story is told in detail in the book The Final Race:  The Incredible World War II Story of the Olympian Who Inspired Chariots of Fire.  This book is by Eric Eichenger with Eva Marie Everson.  It is published by Tyndale.

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The Final Race is a well written and inspiring story of a great Christian.  At some points, I wished that it would have included a bit more of the bigger picture of what was happening in China and the world.  But the goal was not to cast the Liddell story in the midst of history, but to highlight the faith and life of Liddell.  I am still unclear on exactly where Liddell stood on theological issues.  He seems to have waffled a bit on the historic Calvinism of his Scots’ heritage, but he also resisted the inroads of Modernism that were slipping into the Church and mission fields.  He was a Congregationalist, and not a Presbyterian as I had always assumed.

He wasn’t perfect, but he was good, faithful, godly, and dedicated.  One could wish that a well financed movie could be made about this facet of his life.  Another point that needs to be made is that while he died in the Japanese camp, it was not the result of abuses of the captors.  Liddell had a brain tumor.  The medical care was not top notch, but it would not have mattered.  God has set the race before Liddell and he ran it to the glory of God until he reached the appointed finish line.