An excellent read! Although, like Dave Barry, I could see not wanting to read more than a bit at a time of the good Mr. McManus' works, in small chunk...moreAn excellent read! Although, like Dave Barry, I could see not wanting to read more than a bit at a time of the good Mr. McManus' works, in small chunks his writing is quite a delight. Which of course makes sense, given that these are columns collected from his writings in Outdoor Life and Field and Stream.
This is an excellent (if slightly biased) introduction to Augustine. It is not, however, the best place to start (that would be Augustine: A Very Shor...moreThis is an excellent (if slightly biased) introduction to Augustine. It is not, however, the best place to start (that would be Augustine: A Very Short Introduction ). But, if you've got a bit of Augustine under your belt, this is a good refresher that synthesizes Augustine's life and works quite well. It is also fully illustrated, though some of the pictures and art are not necessarily connected to the text (St. Peter's in Rome, a Russian icon, etc).
Knowles and Penkett are excellent writers and know their stuff. The text flows well and Augustine's life and ideas are clearly presented. What's more, they give fair attention to both the political/geographical/historical setting and the religious/theological/philosophical setting. Usually, one of these is ignored in favor of the other. Yet, in a book that's only ~180 pages long, I still came away feeling that a full and fair treatment of Augustine and his world had been provided.
With one exception: there's a bit of an over-emphasis on Neo-Platonism, that ends with Augustine sounding more like an Orthodox writer (along the lines of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite ) and less like the Western writer that he really was (along the lines of a Tertullian ). While not completely inappropriate (Augustine certainly had his philosophical influences, and Plato and Plotinus were both high up on that list), it means that important concepts like grace and faith get glossed over in favor of mystical experience. Which again isn't completely unfair, but also isn't completely accurate.
Yet even with that, this is still an excellent little volume and I am quite happy to recommend it to anyone wanting a good introduction to the most important Christian thinker since New Testament times.(less)
Overall, Playing God is an excellent work on the nature of power from a Christian perspective. Thoughtful and well-written, the book explores the use...moreOverall, Playing God is an excellent work on the nature of power from a Christian perspective. Thoughtful and well-written, the book explores the use and abuse of power in a way that is even-handed, constructive, and beneficial to the careful reader. And while this book is perhaps a bit denser than the average book on the Evangelical market, it is all the more useful for that. Crouch burrows deep into a topic where others no doubt would skim the surface, and explores power in its complex and varied forms.
The biggest weakness of this book is that Crouch is a bit hazy on where exactly the Gospel fits into the discussion of power. He talks much about the cross as a place of victory, but little about it as a place of atonement: This discussion is particularly useful for Americans, who are inclined to be suspicious of power and authority (unless of course it’s our own power and authority under consideration, in which case it is of unimpeachable merit). We all believe that those out there with more power than us are out for both our blood and their own benefit, and that they must be restrained at almost all costs. Yet, Crouch reminds us that there’s more to power than domination and destruction. Power can also restrain, discipline, focus, and build. It can certainly be used by the strong to enslave the weak (some of Crouch’s best examples come from his time working with International Justice Mission to end such practices), but in the right hands it can also be used to liberate the oppressed. Crouch encourages us to look beyond the naked exercise of power itself to the source of that power and as whether it is flowing from evils such as injustice or idolatry, or from godly attempts to reflect the image of the Creator by working good and justice in the world.
An excellent survey of some of the major issues concerning the relationship between politics and film. Franklin has his own ideas and biases, but sets...moreAn excellent survey of some of the major issues concerning the relationship between politics and film. Franklin has his own ideas and biases, but sets them aside (mostly) in order to get at the problems raised when thinking about how film and our political culture intertwine. While I don't agree with all of his conclusions, he raises the questions clearly and well and (hopefully) in a way that will be useful to undergrads in a politics and film course.
Recommended for those who want to think about how politics and film interact on more than just a superficial level.(less)
So, I finally finished this problematic and troublesome book. If you are friends with me on Goodreads, you'll know that I gave it 3 stars, which might...moreSo, I finally finished this problematic and troublesome book. If you are friends with me on Goodreads, you'll know that I gave it 3 stars, which might raise some eyebrows given the awful things I'm about to say about the book. Just so you know, my rock-solid rule is that if a book is well-written, it gets a minimum of three stars. In an era when anyone can crank out a book for a minimum investment of time and resources, quality writing needs to be celebrated and rewarded. Aside from the content, the style and construction of this book were quite good.
But when it comes to the content, this book is right on the border between "worthless" and "dangerous." Since I've already commented on some of the specifics (links at the end), I'll keep it general here.
Disclaimer (which I've given before): I am in no way questioning whether or not the authors of this book are Christian. I'm merely commenting on their political philosophy, interpretations of history, and theology.
In general, there are two fundamental problems with this book: its bad history and its bad theology.
I've already dealt with some of the more specific egregious historical errors, but in general Under God is problematic in how it lays out a two-sided approach to American history. On the one hand, we are given a vision of a golden past where America was God's nation and all the Founding Fathers were Christian. This past gradually declined into the present, where atheism has run rampant and we have gotten away from our roots as a Christian nation. Story after story of our Founders' faith (even the anti-Trinitarian John Adams is used at one point, along with the cultist Sojourner Truth) are thrown out before us along with out-of-context quotes, questionable interpretations, and frankly a one-sided view of history. It probably bears repeating that not only were most of the Founders NOT Christian, even the few that were could not agree on whether or not the American revolution was a good thing (to say nothing of the later Constitution--which Christians for the most part seemed to oppose).
We must remember that "The Founders" were not a monolithic entity whose spirit we need to try to recapture today, they were a diverse group of individuals and factions who each had their own views on religion, politics, and the world. I'll include some links below for good overview sources for the Founding Period that will give a better interpretation of the various views of the generation of the 1770s.
Alas, that's not the only problem. On the one hand we have the Golden Age view of American history. On the other hand, Under God gives us a vision of a past mired in the sin of slavery, racism, and sexism. Over time, so the book implies, we have gradually clawed our way out of this past into the enlightened present, where these horrible evils are dead and we have true brotherhood in our nation (or would have, if only we'd get back to our Christian roots). To be sure, the darker aspects of American history are relevant and do demand much more attention than they've been given (especially at the popular level), but I'm not convinced this is the way to do it. While most of the stories on this topic in Under God are by themselves unobjectionable and fairly straightforward (if not always completely historically accurate), as the book progresses a pattern begins to unfold--a pattern intended to suggest that America used to struggle with these evils, but no longer does. As a result, I believe these past-negative stories are little more than a cathartic "see, we believe in sin too--but fortunately it was all in the way back when, and we've moved beyond it." Which works if we're talking about slavery (the bulk of the book's attention, though Native Americans and suffrage get nods as well). Clearly we no longer have slaves--that is an evil that has been vanquished. And yet, if we start talking about greed, or apathy, or pride, or gluttony, or self-indulgence, or, well, any other of a host of sins that we could raise, it's hard to see how we can have any kind of rosy view of moral progress (or regress) in America.
But so what? It's a history book, shouldn't everything be about the past anyway? This is a big deal because Under God's treatment of sin in American history requires absolutely nothing of the reader other than a feeling of shame and regret, followed by a feeling of relief as we note that the things which cause our shame and regret are increasingly in the distant past. True, we are perhaps concerned at the atheistic tendencies of the present, and filled a longing for the golden days of yore when everyone was a Christian. And maybe we're even tempted to get angry at the decline of religion in modern America (though to be fair, Under God steers away from that particular emotion for the most part). Yet you will search in vain for something that will personally convict you or in any way challenge you to change your life. Of course, this is a history book--in that sense it should be all focused on the past. (Well, 'history' book.) But the stated agenda at the beginning of the book is to "ignite a passion and inspire you to learn more about the great heritage you have and to seek out the unfinished work left to do." (9) A noble enough goal, but not one met by Under God.
Really, the best thing I can do is point you to Miles Mullin's post on Thomas Kidd's blog, where he takes on the project of the group behind the publication of this book (the "Wallbuilders"). Mullin writes of how according to this worldview:
The United States has been uniquely blessed because of its Christian character... If the founders used Christian words, they must mean what we mean. Divorced from their context, quote after quote made founder after founder sound evangelical. Even Charles Carroll, the sole Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, came across sounding like a good Baptist... At the end of the presentation, [the listeners] were left with the following impressions: the founders were religious. They were religious just like me. Because they were religious like me, God has uniquely blessed America, per Psalm 33:12. And, if we want the blessings to continue, we need to elect righteous people.
The same agenda is at work in Under God. This is idolatry of the second-highest order (the first-highest of course being actually worshiping statues), wherein the Christian life is identified with the life of the political community. Americans are not God's people--not even the Americans of the Founding generation. Only Christians can lay claim to that title, and even then not because of anything inherent to us (either where we're born or what nation we're born into), but only because of the grace of God and His kindness in Christ.
As believers, we must remember that our country is ultimately not America--that is a temporary and passing thing. Our city has eternal foundations with God as its architect and builder. It will last forever, while America (and England, and France, and China, and Israel, and all the other nations of the earth) will eventually cease to exist, either through the providential working of history over time or immediately when Christ returns. There is no spiritual benefit that inherently comes from being an American--we may have different opportunities than Christians in other nations (easy access to good books, for example), but we are by no means better because we live in a nation that God loves more. As I pointed out in a previous post, America holds a place in God's providential plan for the world, but it is not any more special a place than that of any other country.
And, [sigh], I've got more of these books to read, so I should save something for later reviews. The short version is this: we must never put our faith in our nation, or in God's blessings on our nation. And we should certainly never assume that if only we all become Christians, America will become some sort of elect country. Our hope should be centered on Christ alone and His atoning work on the cross. Salvation does not come through having a country full of Christians, salvation comes to us when we reject our sin and embrace the Gospel offer in faith.
I've included some links below if you want to read more on the subjects mentioned in this post.
Just a note: this last one is difficult and dense, but it's also a great introduction to how Christians interacted with the state in the first four centuries AD. I know of no secondary source that compares in terms of richness and depth for any other period of history...(less)
So I suppose I should start this review off by pointing out that there's not much about either wine or the Puritans in this short book by Van Wyck Bro...moreSo I suppose I should start this review off by pointing out that there's not much about either wine or the Puritans in this short book by Van Wyck Brooks. Oh sure, Brooks starts off with a discussion about the Puritans and about the folly of putting their old-world wine in the new wineskins of the American setting, but that gets left behind pretty quickly as we wander into the subject Brooks really wants to discuss (and one found in the subtitle): "A Study of Present Day America."
This is, however, no ordinary study of present day America. Brooks has structured his work as a "dialogue" between two individuals who don't really dialogue at all, but just feed off of each others comments and move the discussion forward through instant agreement and mutual support. This is not to say the book is boring or poorly done, just that it's not what we think of when we think of a dialogue.
So what are Brooks' conclusions about the state of "modern" America? (Keep in mind that this book was written in 1908.) In short, it is about the difficulty of Americans in finding their own voice/spirit/philosophy/whatever. We are as a nation a set of "new wineskins", yet as we all know old wine (the thought and lifestyles of Europe) doesn't work well with new wineskins. Which means that we need a new wine to go in our new setting, but we haven't been great at discovering this new wine. In fact, we aren't really clear on what the nature of the new wineskins is, let alone what should go into it.
To give an example from the book, Brooks talks about art:
But it seems that an artist can produce great and lasting work only out of the materials which exist in him by instinct and which constitute racial fibre, the accretion of countless generations of ancestors, trained to one deep, local, indigenous attitude toward life. A man is more the product of his race than of his art, for a man may supremely express his race without being an artist, while he cannot be a supreme artist without expressing his race. (121-122)
The problem is, we have no concept of what it means to be part of the American "race," no way of exploring our own perspective on the world and on life. That in part was the goal of Brooks' career (The Wine of the Puritans was, I think, his first book). Through books on Washington Irving, the New England writers, Mark Twain, and other giants of American arts and letters, Brooks strove to find the thread tying them all together. Here, Brooks doesn't so much find a unifying theme as he does suggest that such a theme might best be found by comparing American writings to European ones. He writes:
And what trait do you find that these American artists all have in common? Precisely that not one of them could be mistaken essentially for a Frenchman or an Englishman or a Spaniard. Their technique may be the technique of any of these foreign schools, but where anything lies behind the technique we know that it must be the American spirit, because we can see that it is not the French spirit or the English spirit. (125-126)
This may be a bit of a dodge, but there may also be something to it. We may not be able to articulate the American spirit, but we know it when we see it.
Overall, this quick little read is an excellent jumping-off point into thinking about what it is that makes America distinct artistically, philosophically, etc. While I don't agree with all of Brooks' comments or conclusions, he is an excellent writer and has good points to make.
Recommended for those interested in the subject. (less)
Arguing with Socrates by Christopher Warne is a brief introduction to and overview of several of Plato's short dialogues. The book is divided into two...moreArguing with Socrates by Christopher Warne is a brief introduction to and overview of several of Plato's short dialogues. The book is divided into two parts. In Part One, Warne introduces the people in the dialogues and discusses the roles they play (both dramatic and philosophical). He also surveys the Socratic methods and means used in the dialogues to arrive at Socrates' (or Plato's) philosophical position. Part Two is a survey of nine short dialogues: The Apology, Crito, Euthyphro, Hippias Major, Ion, Laches, Meno, Protagoras, and Symposium.
Overall, this book is a brief, well-written, and thoughtful overview of some of Plato's best known short works. Warne writes clearly and well, blending smoothly Plato's ancient ideas with examples and anecdotes drawn from contemporary society. He clearly has a grasp of both Plato and modern scholarship, as well as an understanding of the practical application of otherwise abstract ideas and problems.
And yet, I would hesitate to recommend this book to the intended audience.
If you read this book with Mohler's voice in mind, it's a pretty solid read. Of course, I might just be saying that because like so many contemporary...moreIf you read this book with Mohler's voice in mind, it's a pretty solid read. Of course, I might just be saying that because like so many contemporary Evangelical writers, Mohler's a better speaker than he is a writer.
Overall, this book is fine, if a bit skewed in its approach. The claim is (at least according to the back of the book) that this little text answers the question "Are you ready to respond to the most relevant questions of sexuality today?" Which I suppose it technically does. Mohler gives five chapters to the questions of lust, pornography, and traditional marriage; three chapters to "The Age of Polymorphous Perversity", and nine chapters to homosexuality. All of these chapters give a quick overview of the major issues and ways Christians can be responsibly thinking about and engaging with these viewpoints and movements. And so far as all that goes, I think this book is good and useful and am happy to recommend it.
Yet, here's my quibble: far more than half of the book is dedicated to the issue of homosexuality. True, that is a way that Americans have skewed our views of sex in the past couple of decades, but is it the major way? Is it worthy of half a book (even as short a book as this one) on the subject of sex in contemporary culture?
I suspect that the bigger issue driving our obsession with sex is exactly the same thing that drives our problems with food and our problems with, well, everything. That issue is our unrestrained appetites. We hate it when anyone tells us "no", and have no greater desire than to be able to give into our spur-of-the-moment impulse at any time and for any reason without restraint (and if we can do so without consequences, so much the better). Now I may be wrong and presumably "Dr. Mohler should have written the book I would have written" isn't the ideal critique. But I think there is something to be said to maintaining an appropriate balance when approaching social ills, and I'm not sure this book does a great job of that.
Anyway, all that said, this is still an interesting (and quick!) read. Recommended for those interested in the subject matter. (less)
This book is less of a commentary on the Apostle's Creed and more a use of the Creed as a structure by which to demonstrate how Christian Biblical the...moreThis book is less of a commentary on the Apostle's Creed and more a use of the Creed as a structure by which to demonstrate how Christian Biblical theology stands against various trends in modern culture (both Christian and secular alike). The points this book raises are useful, interesting, and--with certain exceptions--true, but I don't know that Horton has accomplished any kind of actual exposition of the Creed.
That said, it was still a good book and one I'm happy to recommend.(less)
"In the past few decades, America has gradually transformed from a society that merely has a strong and vi...moreI reviewed this for a journal, linked below:
"In the past few decades, America has gradually transformed from a society that merely has a strong and vibrant free market to a society that treats everything—including civic institutions, death, and friendship—as if it were a part of that market. And while the dominant economic wisdom is that such a transition is a good thing, Sandel argues that in making this cultural change we are destroying the morality of key components of our civic life. Sandel’s main contention is that “some of the good things in life are corrupted or degraded if turned into commodities” (10).
Sandel contends that, before we give in to this popular market mentality, we ought to keep two important truths in mind: first, that there are spiritual and moral boundaries that should constrain market forces; and second, that the market by its very nature actually corrupts the virtues of other social categories."
John Goldingay's writing is impressive. His style is smooth and flows well, his points are clearly articulated, and he holds the readers attention. Mo...moreJohn Goldingay's writing is impressive. His style is smooth and flows well, his points are clearly articulated, and he holds the readers attention. Moreover, his translation (so far as I can tell) is well done. Granted, I'm not a Hebrew scholar, but the text of 1 and 2 Samuel he includes has neither the clunkiness of some literal translations nor the forced chumminess of some of the worse glosses. (If I'm wrong on his translating abilities, please let me know--it's just not my area of expertise.)
What's much less impressive is Goldingay's theology. Specifically, his theology of the sovereignty of God is undeveloped to the point where you have to wonder if he's even reading the same 1 and 2 Samuel that the rest of us are. Now, to be fair, these are HARD books. We know that all Scripture points to Christ, but the history books of the OT are notoriously difficult to interpret as Christians trying to see the light of the Gospel shed over the past. What's more, 1 and 2 Samuel are especially difficult, as they have less formal structuring and more ambiguous characters. (Contrary to what we all learned in Sunday School, David is NOT a moral exemplar.) Yet for all that, to claim (repeatedly) that there are "'chance' events in which God was not directly involved [that] work in David's favor, and [for which] one can imagine that God is glad" (101) simply does not reflect the reality revealed in Scripture, even in 1 Samuel. I suppose Goldingay may be speaking sarcastically in these passages, but that wasn't the impression I got. The overwhelming claim of Scripture is that God is absolutely sovereign over every aspect of human existence. Nature, history, mankind, and so forth fall under his decree. The sort-of on-again off-again crypto-deism espoused in this commentary means that I cannot in good conscience recommend it. Which really is unfortunate, since Goldingay has excellent things to say about some of the passages and does bring out bits of the text I hadn't noticed before. No doubt he has other books on other subjects that are worthwhile (I'd love to read some of his writing on the secular history of the Ancient Near East, if such writing exists...).(less)
As with most of Piper's books, this little work was theologically solid, expositionally clear, and a bit underwhelming in terms of its style (I mainta...moreAs with most of Piper's books, this little work was theologically solid, expositionally clear, and a bit underwhelming in terms of its style (I maintain that Piper is the greatest living preacher, but that doesn't always transfer over into being a phenomenal writer). This book is an excellent introduction to the question of whether pagans and other non-believers who seem to be sincerely seeking some sort of religious experience can be considered "believers." Piper gives the traditional and orthodox (and of course Biblical) answer that in fact conscious faith in Christ is necessary to salvation. Along the way to this conclusion, Piper likewise engages the question of the reality of hell (do nonbelievers need to be saved in the first place) and the nature of our salvation (through the life and death of Jesus).
Overall, this is an excellent and short survey of some of the pressing issues that we should be thinking about with regard to modern missions. (less)
This work by Custance is the first of what are reportedly an eclectic and unique set of musings by a loosely-orthodox Canadian Christian writing on so...moreThis work by Custance is the first of what are reportedly an eclectic and unique set of musings by a loosely-orthodox Canadian Christian writing on some of the more obscure problems in Scripture. In this book, for example (available in full for free here: http://custance.org/library_menu.php ) takes on the question of the relationship between the sons of Noah (Shem, Ham, and Japheth) and the future development of human civilization. This book apparently had its origin when Custance asked why it was that Noah cursed Canaan, rather than Ham, in Genesis 9, since it was Ham who sinned. This led to an extended reflection on the table of nations in Genesis 10 which has apparently be influential on Christian thought ever since. Specifically, Custance draws on his anthropological training and Biblical knowledge to argue that Shem, Ham, and Japheth are the originators of the various kinds of peoples and cultures that we see around the world today and through history. The descendants of Ham, for example, tend to excel at technical and manual matters (physical labor, farming, etc). The descendants of Japheth have tended to be intellectual and rational. The descendants of Shem have been spiritual and focused on matters of the heart. (Custance is careful to point out that these are not moral differences, they are merely differences of inclinations and interests.) Custance suggests that the best civilizations are those which have the best balance between these three characteristics. Those which over-emphasize one tend to be tyrannical or chaotic. The bulk of the book is spent defending his claims about each sort of society (with a special emphasis on the "Hamitic" cultures).
I... don't know what to do with this book. It's certainly interesting, and a topic which I hadn't thought much about before. And to be sure we have to do something with all those genealogies in the Old Testament. And yet, some of this feels a little statistics/anthropology heavy, and, well, I do care about civilization, but when I'm wearing my "Bible exposition" hat, I'm not sure we can really see all this stuff in the text.
Nevertheless, the book was interesting enough that I'll likely pick up more of his books, if only to read what he has to say about the interval between death and resurrection, the virgin birth, or the Genesis flood...(less)