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

 

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.

September Days and Morning Reads

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September begins with the promises of adding riches untold,
and the pocketbook may not change in the slightest.                    
Jose de la Casa
The grass is too high, getting tough, growing slowly, and a bit brown from the heat and lack of rain.  School has started.  Nights a bit longer now, and there is a promise of cooler weather not so long from now.  Personally, I wish time were moved six to eight weeks back and I were stuck, isolated, abandoned with only my family and lots of books at some beach house overlooking the incoming waves or some cabin in the mountains with a valley to see from the back porch.  But that didn’t happen in June or July or August, so I accept the inevitable–September.  But as De la Casa noted in the quote above, there can be riches found in the month of September.
Of the making of study Bible in our times, there is no end.  That is not given as a complaint, but as a thanksgiving. I have often read the concern about study Bibles which says that people will be prone to read the notes in the Bible and accept them as being on a par with Scripture.  My problem is not anywhere near that.  I am prone not to read the notes at all.  In fact, my preferred daily reading Bible has no notes or added materials, except maybe a paragraph introduction before each book.
But there is a place and use for a study Bible that contains lots of cross references, explanatory notes, extensive introductions, and other helps.  (All of the extras can be used for reading during bad sermons.  Just joking.)
The Worldview Study Bible is published by B & H Publishing, an outstanding source for Christian books and Bibles.  For high school or college students, this would be a great resource.  The translation is the CSB, which is produced by B & H (or Holman as the Bible arm of that company is called).  Others more qualified can weigh the merits or problems with the CSB translation.  I can lament that we have the NKJV, ESV, NIV, and now the CSB, along with many others, that are making a common Bible among Christian folk nearly impossible.  I can give a somewhat approving nod to those who prefer the King James Version (while separating myself from those who contend that the devil is the source of all other translations).  Hey, we live in a time of many sound, conservative, evangelical Bible translations.  That is not exactly the stuff of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs caliber problems.
The key feature of this book is the inclusion of large number of essays dealing with Christian worldview issues.  I know there is some debate back and forth over the concept or limitations of teaching about having a Christian worldview.  I know that sometimes we have used the term as a way of importing a somewhat Americanized and politically conservative way of thinking into our Bible studies.  I know that the term Christian worldview can be trivialized and separated from other aspects of the full orbed Christian life. But I still like the term.  I still buy, read, and borrow from books promoting a Christian worldview for interpreting every area of life and thought.  I am a Kuyperian, a devoted fan of David Naugle’s book Worldview: The History of a Concept, and a promoter of Christian education that teaches worldview thinking.
The topics in this study Bible range from theological issues like inspiration and inerrancy to social issues like recreation, careers, LGBT concerns, and more.  Science issues relating to creation/evolution debates and gender debates are included.  Essays on philosophy, politics, economics, music, and other such ideas are also here.  The essays are authored by some leading Christian teachers, pastors, and writers, and they are placed throughout the Bible in places that tie in with the themes of each book.
I have just begun to harvest the fruit of this fine study Bible.  Those looking to understand what is meant by having a Christian worldview or those who are teaching others would enjoy this work.
(I will confine my comments on the other books in the picture to a sentence or two.  More detailed reviews will come later.)
Every Moment Holy is published by that delightful and creative group known as The Rabbit Room.
This is a beautiful book both in outward appearance and in content.  Buy it for someone for Christmas, but get at least 2 copies because you will want to keep one.  It consists of prayers for every moment, time, and circumstance.
My morning history study is Justifying Revolution: Law, Virtue, and Violence in the American War for Independence. Edited by Glenn A. Moots (author of Politics Reformed) and Philip Hamilton.  While this is a slow and studious read, it is a great look behind the battles and leaders of the American War for Independence that considers the books, ideas, philosophies, and ethical concerns relating to that war.
Martin Luther's Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle To the Galatians (1535)
Martin Luther’s Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (1535) is published by another new publishing group, 1517 Publishing.
Translated by Harloldo Camacho and with a foreword by Michael Horton, this big book is even bigger than it is. (Yes, I know that is awkward phrasing.)  At 557 pages, this book is the Protestant Reformation, the 5 Solas, the confession of what we believe.  A historical document–yes–but also a great study into a pivotal teaching of the Bible.  Praise God for this new translation.
Two days now into reading Eternity is Now in Session by John Ortberg, published by Tyndale Press.
We are not just waiting to get to heaven so all will be experiencing eternal life.  It is here and now and eternal matters are not just some heavenly idealistic realm but are for here and now.  Powerful and instructive.
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After a few unexplained delays, I am now reading Atheism on Trial by Dr. Louis Markos.  If he writes it, I want to read it.  He is both a gifted writer and an engaging (irrepressible) speaker.  This book is no fluff work on current atheist evangelists, but is a serious look at atheism and its related philosophical and scientific ideas as found in the ancients, in philosophers of past centuries, and in the current discussions.  Published by Harvest House Publishers.
Lectures on Calvinism
I am always glad to see another edition or promotion or quote from Abraham Kuyper’s lectures at Princeton in 1898 that have sometimes been called the Stone Lectures or more commonly Lectures on Calvinism.  Going back to the topic of Christian worldview thinking–this book is the foundation of all the modern applications.  Brilliant.
Thanks to American Vision for publishing this new edition of a Christian classic.  An added feature or benefit is that this edition contains some slight alterations in punctuation so as to make the text flow.  Kuyper is not an easy read, and so having a few modernizations to style issues is a help. In my opinion, Lectures on Calvinism is one of the most important books ever.

August Morning Readings

 

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Summer–When Mornings Begin and End When I Want Them To

A sadness sets in as August slips away day by day.  I remember the line “Spring comes with promises that summer never keeps.”  Imperfect world, imperfect dreams, flawed hopes, and yet there is much to enjoy and rejoice in despite the shortcomings of life in this world.

I am a book reviewer.  Fancy way of saying that I read.  Something of an excuse for the towering stacks of books that exist in every corner of my life.  June came with a long list of must reads, want to reads, need to reads, would be fun to reads, and re-reads.  Lots of reading did happen, but lots of books still lie there with a sadness about them as they wait for the time when they will be picked up and read, or picked up and finished, or just picked up and noticed.

But a few books have made it.  I do not, contrary to some folks’ thoughts, read all day or even most of the day.  I read for an hour or more in the mornings.  At some point in the reading time, the coffee drinking rites have been fulfilled and a hunger for breakfast exceeds the hunger for another page.  Usually I never get back to the reading chair after that. (I do slip in a short read in the afternoon and turn to other books to read before going to bed.)

Knowing Christ was written by Mark Jones, a Christian writer and teacher who resides in Canada, and is published Banner of Truth.  The man just turned 38 and he has a book that J. I. Packer wrote the Foreword to and that is published by the Banner.  Meaning, many of the Banner books are works that were originally written anywhere from 100 to 500 years ago.  A writer has to reach up to the league of a John Calvin, John Owen, or Jonathan Edwards to be in the Banner league.  Mark Jones has written a book worthy of that league.

This book bridges two styles that are not easy to bring together.  Some books are heavy on the theological side.  Theology is a great area of study, but as an “ology” it can get quite complicated, technical, and arcane.  Just as great minds delve into science and philosophy, many with great minds delve into theology.  Their discoveries, insights, and formulations are profound, amazing, and yet often blinding to the man in the pew.  On the other hand, many good and uplifting books are written that are light and easy to grasp, yet a bit too fluffy.  Full of stories and quips and humor, they make for good reading without overly challenging either the mind or the heart.

In our day, men like J. I Packer, R. C. Sproul, and Tim Keller among others, have written books that can be profitably gleaned by the pastor/scholar who is at home in his book filled study but can also be read by the congregation members who have to squeeze in a quick bit of spiritual edification when beginning or ending the day.  This book, Knowing Christ, is very much in that tradition.

A person could take this book and just read the quotes in it, ranging from John Owen, Stephen Charnock, Thomas Manton, and John Flavel to Charles Spurgeon, Geerhardus Vos, and Richard Gaffin, and find it a very delightful perusal.  Or one could just go to the End Notes and find a reading list of theological books to occupy a lifetime.  But to do that would be to miss the many comments that Jones makes and the way he threads the quotes from others and commentary from himself to explicate the opening Bible verses and themes of each chapter.

This is not, be warned, a read-once book.  This is one worthy of many readings.  I loved having it as a morning read as I allowed myself only one chapter a day.  It could be read by beginning at any chapter.  Reading this book makes me look forward to reading more of this author.

God of Our Fathers: Classical Theism for the Contemporary Church, edited by Bradford Littlejohn, is published by The Davenant Institute.

I read this book during my morning reads in July.  Upon finishing it, I read it again in August.  Some of the essays could be read a third time in September and on and on.  These essays are not in the category of morning devotional reads or casual reading.  These are scholarly interactions with contemporary (as in the last hundred years or so) trends in contrast with Classical Theism.  As I have previously stated, this book is heavy lifting theologically.

Most of the discussions in this book are outside the scope and experience of the person in the pew and for many in the pulpit.  Our tendency is to assume that if both laity and clergy (in large part) can get along without these matters, then they are unimportant.  But it is often the case that a minor, obscure deviation or shortcoming in the realm of ideas has consequences that end up warping the greater whole.  The purpose of scholars and scholarly pursuit, or in this case, theologians and theological disputations, is to clarify the truth.  Hence, books like this and the other publications from the Davenant Institute are important for even those who never read or re-read them.

The first article in this book, a lengthy one, concerns Philip Melanchthon’s doctrine of God and is written by E. J. Hutchinson. In his major theological work, Loci communes, Melanchthon did not address or “reform” the doctrine of God.  Centuries later, theologians such as Friedrich Schleiermacher sought to correct Melanchthon’s omission.  To a large degree, Melanchthon’s omission was due to the already adequate formulations of the Triune God and the Incarnation embedded in creedal Christianity.  The Reformation was a movement that was seeking to correct deviations found in the Church and not rewrite the whole of Christianity.

Major take-away for me:  We read quite a bit about Calvin’s Institutes, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, and a few other Reformation classics.  Melanchthon remains something of an appendix to Luther.  I know far too little about him.

The second essay in this book is “Natural Theology and Protestant Orthodoxy” by David Haines.  This essays butts heads with some points made by Cornelius Van Til and Karl Barth.  I enjoyed this discussion of what man can know about God based on Romans 1.  Seeing Van Til teamed up with Barth in the heel corner is a matchup that even Vince McMahon couldn’t pull off.

Major take-away for me:  Have I misunderstood Van Til and Van Tillians on this point of natural theology?  I would like to read a rebuttal to this essay.

Essays following these include discussion of the meaning of eternity, the Eternal Subordination of the Son, Herman Bavinck and missional theology, Biblical inspiration, Trinitarian theology, and classical theism in an atheistic age.  These essays presuppose some prior reading and tromping around in the theological world today.  For example, the topic of the Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS) has been written about and debated both for as the quest to better understand the Triune nature of God and as a model, rejected in the case of this essay, of the parallel gender roles in regard to the subordination of wives to husbands.  Missional theology is the topic and title of several recent books, but I must confess to not even having a ticket to that show.  The key theologian regarding Biblical inspiration in this book is the late John Webster, a name new to me.

Major take-aways for me:  I am a history and literature teacher, so the debates–intramural and external–are outside of my usual life scope and sequence.  But it is good to enjoy the reading, explore the debates, and at least get introduced to the names and terms common in theological parlance.

No automatic alt text available.Final morning reading comments concern two books that have several common denominators. Hear My Son: Teaching and Learning in Proverbs 1-9 by Daniel J. Estes is published by IVP.  The second book is The Stoic Art of Living: Inner Resilience and Outer Results is by Tom Morris.

First, the Stoics.  Morris’ book is a collection of quotes and commentaries on the three best known ancient Stoic philosophers.  They are Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.  The purchase of this book sheds lots of light on my scholarly life:  It was in the sale bin at that most intellectual forum, our own local Dirt Cheap store.  I know I paid less than a dollar for the book. I may have paid as little as 15 cents for it.

Philosophy is a field of study that I am so interested in that I cannot resist buying books in that subject area, and on some occasions, I read them.  My son Nick is a philosophy student, and each time I read something, I hope I can have a peer level conversation with him.  Nevertheless, he generally runs circles around me regarding a book I have read that he only glanced at. Just goes to show that childraising ain’t easy.

No less a figure than John Calvin was devoted to the philosophy of Seneca.  The man himself was fascinating.  He was a sensible and brilliant man who worked for the Emperor Nero.  As usual, at some point, Nero had Seneca removed–in every sense of the word.  Brilliant men working for erratic political leaders is not unusual in history.

It was the remaining writings of this man that attracted a young French scholar who then wrote his first book on the Roman philosopher.  I am sure that there are scholarly studies aplenty on Calvin’s use and thought in relation to his favorite Roman philosopher.  I was just glad to get to know this old Roman a bit better.

My main connection with Epictetus comes from the recently deceased Tom Wolfe’s massive novel A Man in Full.  It is a story of how a modern men, caught up in the ugliness of modern society, can be “saved” by reading Epictetus.  To say more about Wolfe’s novel would be giving too many spoilers.

A few years back, I read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.  It is a thoroughly delightful and frequently edifying, encouraging, and informative study.  My friend Brian Phillips has written an introduction to Marcus Aurelius himself and his book.

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As far as worldly wisdom goes, as far as common grace goes, the Stoics are very, very often right on target in terms of coping with life.  Not infallible, but still good.  Morris’ book, even if it costs you more than a dollar, is a great study of the Stoics.

Daniel Estes’ book Hear My Son was recommended to me by Jason Atkinson.  I assumed that is was largely a commentary in the traditional sense of Bible commentaries on the first nine chapters of Proverbs.  I even looked to see if the next volume was out yet. But this is a focused study on the teaching and learning models given in the first 9 chapters.  Proverbs 10-31 follows a patterns of wise sayings limited to one or two verses on a topic.  In fact, chapters tend to cover a wide range of issues with no central theme (other than the general and foundational point about the fear of God being the beginning of wisdom).

This book is a good, but weighty work.  If someone wants to enjoy some meditations on Proverbs, this is not the book.  But for teachers, this book is a gem.  Proverbs is filled with pedagogical insights and patterns.  Keep the coffee hot and strong as you read this book.  If you are a teacher, put it high on the list.