Posts belonging to Category Book Reviews

Biblical wisdom for pastors

The Country Parson: His Character and Rule of Holy Life (1842)The Country Parson: His Character and Rule of Holy Life by George Herbert

This is an excellent advice book for young ministers. Written for pastors in the Anglican church, some details may not apply to other denominations, but on the whole, it is full of wisdom. It describes areas from preaching and counseling, to a minister’s humor and how he should govern his household. I plan on reading this many times in the future.

A few rays of hope

The Natural Family Where It Belongs: New Agrarian Essays
by Allan C. Carlson

This is a good sampling of Dr. Carlson’s work. It includes brief biographies, sociological research on the family, and historical overviews. It (as is normal for Dr. Carlson) is short on application, but does give hope for the future of the family.

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Learning to be a better friend

The Wind in the WillowsThe Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

I had wanted to read this book for a long time and I finally did this summer. It was written for children, but it is a delightful tale for adults as well, as least those who have an imagination. The chapters are well written and the story is reminiscent of Thorton Burgess, except the animals in this book have much more similarity to humans than in Burgess’s works.

This book illustrates Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” The friendship among the four main characters, Mole, Rat, Badger, and Toad is warm and sharpening (even transforming for one of them). The author teaches us that being a friend isn’t just lending a shoulder to cry on but sometimes means taking a stand against your friend even when it hurts, which happens more than once. All friendships have ups and downs, but true friends don’t let those ups and downs erode the relationship.   This is no empty children’s story but one that teaches what real friendship looks like. And learning what it means to be a friend is timeless, no matter how old you are.

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Essays on the most ecumenical books in America

Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land: Hymnody in the History of North American Protestantism
by Edith L. Blumhofer

Collections of essays have a reputation for being forced and uneven; this book contributes to that reputation. While some of these essays were quite good, others were forced and unnecessary.

My favorite essays were by Stephen Marini (on the history of Evangelical hymnody as a whole) and Darryl Hart (on American Presbyterian hymnody), but the entire book presents a tapestry of hymn traditions from various denominations. I was disapointed that there was no essay on the sacred harp tradition in the American South, a vitally important element of Southern Appalacian hymnody until the 1940’s. There was only one essay on Baptist hymnody and it was on Jesse Mercer and the influence of minorities (African-Americans, women, and Native Americans) upon his hymnal. This could harly be called an essay on Southern Baptist hymns as a whole. Seeing as how Southern Baptists make up the largest Protestant denomination in North America, it doesn’t stand to reason that their influence on the book’s subject would be neglected. There is an essay given to Latino-Pentecostal influence on hymns, and another on German-Mennonite hymnals. These are interesting but don’t contribute as much to the overall study of the book.

The best part of the book was how many authors come back to the same theme: hymnody changed as the religious views of people changed. You can document the loosening of doctrinal integrity by looking at the hymns printed in various hymnals. This was made by several authors in several essays. From the colonial days until now, there as a distinct change from God-exalting hymns to shallow me-and-Jesus gospel songs. It doesn’t take much imagination to finish the historical journey and guess how we went from gospel songs in worship to the praise choruses of today.

This would primarily interest those who enjoy church or music history, but it is written at a level that most of us can understand.

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Too many similarities

“We don’t see humanists bowing down to their gods, we but we do see them studying them, lecutring about them, writing books about them. and we don’t see Christians bowing down to the Lord either, but we do see them studying Him, preaching about Him, and writing books about Him.

Thus, there is indeed a big difference between ancient religions and modern ones. Ancient man primarily worshiped his gods, while modern man primarily studies his. This is true both of pagans and of conservative, orthodox Christians.” – James Jordan, Judges, God’s War Against Humanism, p. 35

Understanding America

The Patriot's Handbook: A Citizenship Primer for a New Generation of AmericansThe Patriot’s Handbook: A Citizenship Primer for a New Generation of Americans by George Grant

It’s hard to be excessively great or terrible when compiling essays on American history. Primary source essays and speeches are useful for many purposes, research being just one. But they can go further than that. If compiled properly, primary sources can paint a picture of history. There are many books that appear as a grab-bag of essays and speeches with no apparent rhyme or reason.

This book, edited by George Grant, is no such grab-bag. It combines poems, essays, speeches, and quotes from Americans throughout our history. (more…)

He was a good one

Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of ChristendomDefending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom by Peter J. Leithart

Recently I finished Peter Leithart’s book, Defending Constantine. It is a scholarly work that describes how Constantine operated as emperor. It begins as a biography, explaining the setting of ancient Rome and how Constantine came to power. After the biography, Dr. Leithart approaches the questions many have raised over the years about the rule of Constantine. He provides a good summary of the sources on Constantine’s life and discusses the disagreements among historians with erudition. However that is not the primary focus of the book. The focus is to answer an age-old critique. (more…)

Politics as Usual

The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the CountryThe Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country by Laton McCartney

This book is rare in that it is non-fiction history that reads better than many novels. It is a factual retelling of the Teapot Dome Scandal which took place during the 1920’s under the Warren Harding Administration. The author, Laton McCartney, is a gifted writer. He made the characters come to life in a way many authors can’t. The story epitomizes the human condition. Murder, bribery, graft, adultery, and courtroom drama make just some of the details of the book. Not that I approve of those things or enjoy reading about them, but I like history that doesn’t gloss over some sins and ignores others.

I will grant that the author is very liberal and I suspect he might have an icon of Franklin Roosevelt somewhere but that doesn’t take away from his abilities. It just means I doubt his talents would be used to write about the Obama, Johnson, or Roosevelt administrations.

I picked up a few lessons from this book.

1.) Politics is no worse now than it was before; it just receives more political coverage now than before.

2.) Total depravity isn’t going anywhere. Men with power sin in big ways, men with little power sin in smaller (that is to say, less expensive) ways.

3.) Giving the national government power over something doesn’t mean it will be better taken care of. It does mean that there will be more opportunities to abuse that power.

All in all, I would recommend this book to fans of history as well as to those who enjoy intrigue of all shapes and sizes. It’s worth your time.

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A little lacking in objectivity

Federal Vision: Heresy at the Root
by David J. Engelsma

I respect the author of this book, David Engelsma. He has done quite a bit of good work on Christian education and bringing up children in the faith. This however, is not his best book. He is concerned with the problems of what is known as “federal vision” theology. I will not take the time to explain these beliefs here. The fact is, there isn’t one particular system of belief known as the “federal vision.” By that I mean there isn’t a book that systematizes it as a doctrine of belief. Rather it is a group of pastors, professors, and laymen who combine a Lutheran view of baptism with covenant theology (and this is a gross oversimplification, but it will have to do for now).

Regarding this particular work, the author intends to warn the reader of these beliefs, which he (and others) consider heresy. He uses quotes from various authors to develop a system of belief. The problem is that you can’t construct someone else’s theological system based on snippets of unrelated essays written to different audiences. That being said, Engelsma is clear regarding his differences with those who hold to the federal vision. It comes down to a different view of God’s covenant. Engelsma is closer the a Reformed Baptist view of the covenant, while men who hold to the federal vision are closer a continental Reformed view of the covenant.

But the biggest problem with the book is the tone. There are denunciations throughout the book of various men who disagree with the author. Ironically, these variances of opinion could also be found among those who wrote the Westminster Confession. Yet the men who wrote the confession were able to abide one another’s difference for the sake of the gospel (see Robert Letham’s book on the Westminster Confession). The harsh tone will only further convince those who despise the federal vision, but it will not convince the objective reader of anything except how much author dislikes the movement.

If you want to understand the federal vision, don’t read this book. It will not present an adequate description.

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Covenant theology and politics: a match made in heaven

Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant TheologyPolitics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology by Glenn A. Moots

I really enjoyed this book. It explained many things that had heretofore been missing in my understanding of American history. The author brings a vast amount of research into the story.

In the beginning, he explains the meaning of political theology. This is contrasted with other methods of understanding politics. Then he explains the meaning of covenant theology (and does a pretty good job for a non-theologian) as well as the Protestant Reformers who contributed to it, primarily John Calvin and Henry Bullinger. The meat of the book is his description of how this theology was applied to English politics during the English Civil War and later American politics in colonial times. He concludes with a discussion of modern covenant theology as well as how we can apply this version of political theology in modern times.

It is not as large as you might think for a book that gives so much information. But this is not what you might call casual summer reading. The prose is easy but new ideas and end-notes come by the bucket on some pages. Nevertheless for those who want to know about how covenant theology in particular shaped our country, this is the book for you.

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