Category : Books

Today in History

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, History, Race/Race Relations

(JE) 100 Influential Protestants You Ought to Know

Instead of attempting to repeat the more well-known names you probably already know, what follows is IRD’s list of Evangelicals and Mainline Protestant movers and shakers who fly under the mainstream radar. Others on our list are better known but missed making the Newsmax list. Many are folks IRD’s staff have interacted or collaborated with during the course of our work. All are leading Evangelical and Protestant influencers who you should know.

Note that while the list is numbered, it is in no particular order.

1. Greg Thornbury – Previously president of The King’s College in New York City, Thornbury was recently named Chancellor of the school. He has been dubbed “America’s first hipster college president” by The American Spectator. A respected writer and speaker on pop culture and its relationship to faith, Thornbury has a forthcoming book titled Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock….

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Blogging & the Internet, Books, Religion & Culture

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd Jones and read by David Suchet – Fish Out of Water

Posted in Books, Children, Theology

CS Lewis on CS Lewis Day (IV)–On the importance of reading old books

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why – the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (“mere Christianity” as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook – even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united – united with each other and against earlier and later ages – by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?” – lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

I myself was first led into reading the Christian classics, almost accidentally, as a result of my English studies. Some, such as Hooker, Herbert, Traherne, Taylor and Bunyan, I read because they are themselves great English writers; others, such as Boethius, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Dante, because they were “influences.” George Macdonald I had found for myself at the age of sixteen and never wavered in my allegiance, though I tried for a long time to ignore his Christianity. They are, you will note, a mixed bag, representative of many Churches, climates and ages. And that brings me to yet another reason for reading them. The divisions of Christendom are undeniable and are by some of these writers most fiercely expressed. But if any man is tempted to think – as one might be tempted who read only con- temporaries – that “Christianity” is a word of so many meanings that it means nothing at all, he can learn beyond all doubt, by stepping out of his own century, that this is not so. Measured against the ages “mere Christianity” turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible. I know it, indeed, to my cost. In the days when I still hated Christianity, I learned to recognise, like some all too familiar smell, that almost unvarying something which met me, now in Puritan Bunyan, now in Anglican Hooker, now in Thomist Dante. It was there (honeyed and floral) in Francois de Sales; it was there (grave and homely) in Spenser and Walton; it was there (grim but manful) in Pascal and Johnson; there again, with a mild, frightening, Paradisial flavour, in Vaughan and Boehme and Traherne. In the urban sobriety of the eighteenth century one was not safe – Law and Butler were two lions in the path. The supposed “Paganism” of the Elizabethans could not keep it out; it lay in wait where a man might have supposed himself safest, in the very centre of The Faerie Queene and the Arcadia. It was, of course, varied; and yet – after all – so unmistakably the same; recognisable, not to be evaded, the odour which is death to us until we allow it to become life: “An air that kills From yon far country blows.”

We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the divisions of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity. I know, for I saw it; and well our enemies know it. That unity any of us can find by going out of his own age. It is not enough, but it is more than you had thought till then. Once you are well soaked in it, if you then venture to speak, you will have an amusing experience. You will be thought a Papist when you are actually reproducing Bunyan, a Pantheist when you are quoting Aquinas, and so forth. For you have now got on to the great level viaduct which crosses the ages and which looks so high from the valleys, so low from the mountains, so narrow compared with the swamps, and so broad compared with the sheep-tracks.

–C.S. Lewis, On the Incarnation: the treatise De incarnatione Verbi Dei (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1993), pp. 3-7.

Posted in Books, Church History

(NYT) Sheri Berman reviews William Drozdiak’s new book “Fractured Continent: Europe’s Crises and the Fate of the West”

The collapse of the Soviet Empire left Europe more united than ever before. Most of its countries shared a political (democratic) and economic (capitalist) system; Germany and Russia — the great powers that had caused so much instability in the past — were no longer threats, and the European Union was on the verge of incorporating much of Eastern Europe and creating a single currency. At the end of the 20th century, the view that a “united Europe” was on its way to becoming “the next global superpower,” and the West was at the dawn of a new golden era, was widespread.

Could history prove itself any more unpredictable? Today, there are growing fears that Europe and the West have entered a period of terminal decline. How did we get from there to here? How did the unified, peaceful Europe of the late 20th century turn into the fractured, discordant continent of the early 21st?

William Drozdiak, a former editor and chief European correspondent for The Washington Post, has written a book examining the current crisis from the vantage point of various European capitals — providing a colorful narrative of how it is being experienced differently in each place.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Europe, History

(NR) Russell Moore–The Reformation at 500

Ryrie shows his hand at the book’s conclusion. His narrative of a Protestantism willing to jettison even the Bible in the name of protecting the Gospel allows him to conclude that the churches’ opposition to the sexual revolution is culturally maintained and that the Biblical texts on sexual morality will go overboard, just as slavery did, when the rejection of traditional sexual morality is ubiquitous. For Ryrie, both sides of the current debates on gender and sexuality rending Protestant communions (such as the Anglicans) are “driven by society, not theology.” In his view, Protestant theology is little more than the ratification of social trends, a bit after they have been normalized in the rest of society.

Is this often the case? Yes. I have spent most of my life arguing against a kind of nominal, cultural Christianity that embraced slavery and Jim Crow and often was (and is) made up of what I’ve called “slow-motion sexual revolutionaries” — those who accept such social trends as premarital sex and divorce culture 20 or 30 years after the outside world. That is hardly unique to Protestantism (see some of the moves of Western European Roman Catholic bishops on communion for the divorced and remarried). It also, though, is far from the whole story. Even Ryrie concedes that abortion is an exception, as the more orthodox versions of Protestantism continue to buck the cultural consensus.

Moreover, what Ryrie misses is that this is often the case within conservative Protestantism (and other orthodox forms of Christianity). Luther’s Reformation was not limited to cultural trends, heart-religion, or the bucking of ecclesial authorities. Luther’s stand launched a movement that (Ryrie concedes this fact but leaves it underdeveloped) shaped global culture virtually alone, by rediscovering the truth about God and man found in the Biblical Gospel. The slave trade and Jim Crow segregation were dismantled, despite being a cultural given, at least in some parts of the world, and at least in part (again, Ryrie concedes this but does not integrate it into his argument) because figures ranging from William Wilberforce to Martin Luther King Jr. pointed to a Gospel that teaches individual human dignity and a Bible that announces that there is no partiality with God. R

Ryrie’s arguments here notwithstanding, his chapters on King and Billy Graham are perhaps the best parts of the book, and constitute exceptions to his sola-sociology viewpoint….

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History, Theology

Time Magaine–9 questions for Masha Gessen: the truth about Russia

After the U.S. elections, Putin has often been depicted in the West as some all-power figure. Do you think the West overestimates him?

It depends. I think his power in influencing the U.S. elections is overestimated, because there is an overwhelming desire to lay blame for Trump somewhere outside the United States. But otherwise I don’t think it’s overestimated. … He does wield unilateral power in his country. Is there a system of checks and balances that would limit his power? There isn’t.

But does he have the kind of absolute control usually associated with totalitarian regimes?

Do people in Russia today live as people in the Soviet Union lived under Stalin? Of course not. But does [Putin] have the same political staying power as Stalin did? Does he have the near guarantee of maintaining power and being able to do whatever he wants for the rest of his life? Yes.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, History, Politics in General, Russia

Bishop Robert Baron–The Least Religious Generation In U.S. History: A Reflection On Jean Twenge’s “igen”

Jean Twenge’s book iGen is one of the most fascinating—and depressing—texts I’ve read in the past decade. A professor of psychology at San Diego State University, Dr. Twenge has been, for years, studying trends among young Americans, and her most recent book focuses on the generation born between 1995 and 2012. Since this is the first cohort of young people who have never known a world without iPads and iPhones, and since these devices have remarkably shaped their consciousness and behavior, Twenge naturally enough has dubbed them the “iGen.”

One of her many eye-opening findings is that iGen’ers are growing up much more slowly than their predecessors. A baby-boomer typically got his driver’s license on his sixteenth birthday (I did); but an iGen’er is far more willing to postpone that rite of passage, waiting until her eighteenth or nineteenth year. Whereas previous generations were eager to get out of the house and find their own way, iGen’ers seem to like to stay at home with their parents and have a certain aversion to “adulting.” And Twenge argues that smartphones have undeniably turned this new generation in on itself. A remarkable number of iGen’ers would rather text their friends than go out with them and would rather watch videos at home than go to a theater with others. One of the upshots of this screen-induced introversion is a lack of social skills and another is depression.

Now there are many more insights that Dr. Twenge shares, but I was particularly interested, for obvious reasons, in her chapter on religious attitudes and behaviors among iGen’ers. In line with many other researchers, Twenge shows that the objective statistics in this area are alarming.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Religion & Culture, Sociology, Young Adults

A Must-not-Miss Radiolab Podcast–Anna in Somalia

Take the time to listen to it all–what an incredible story (Hat tip:EH).

Posted in Books, Prison/Prison Ministry, Somalia

Nicholas Davis–11 Classics Every Christian Should Read

Of course, nothing is more classic than the Bible. Aside from the Holy Bible, however, there are certain books that all Christians should read.
The following list of books is not comprehensive but should give you a head start on some great literature that will encourage you in the Christian life. Here are eleven classics (in no particular order) every Christian should read:
1. Basic Christianity by John Stott
“The Bible,” Stott wrote, “isn’t about people trying to discover God, but about God reaching out to find us.” Few books present an intellectually stimulating and satisfying view of the Christian faith as this one. It is chock-full of wisdom and golden nuggets of truth that help us know what we believe and why we believe it.
2. Confessions by Augustine
This is the famous autobiography of Augustine of Hippo, where he writes with such beauty and clarity the words, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
3. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
In this brilliant work, twentieth-century intellectual giant G. K. Chesterton explains with both style and substance his own reasons for being a Christian.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History, Theology

(Telegraph) First edition of King James Bible from 1611 found in church cupboard

A vicar clearing out a cupboard at his church found a forgotten first edition King James Bible dating back to 1611.

There are believed to be fewer than 200 such Bibles still in existence.

The Rev Dr Jason Bray stumbled upon it as he was taking stock at St Giles Parish Church in Wrexham town centre.

He said: “We basically found it when we were going through the cupboards.

“We didn’t know it was a first edition, but we sent photographs to the National Library of Wales and they confirmed that it was, dating back to 1611.

“It has been authenticated, and as far as we know, has always been here.”

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History, Theology: Scripture

(NYRB) Peter Brown reviews a new translation of Augustine’s Confessions by Sarah Ruden

Altogether, in reading book ten of the Confessions, we find Augustine looking at his sins as if through the diminishing end of a telescope. They are disturbing precisely because they are so very small but so very tenacious. Confronted by sensuality and violence, ancient moralists and Christian preachers had tended to deploy an “aversion therapy” based upon rhetorical exaggeration. They pulled out all the stops to denounce the shimmer of ornament, the drunken roar of the circus, the rippling bodies of dancers and wrestlers, the sight of beautiful women, and the languid seduction of perfumes. With Augustine, all this falls silent. The effect of the baleful glare of material beauty becomes no more than noting in himself a touch of sadness when he was deprived for too long of the African sun: “The queen of colors herself, this ordinary light, saturates everything we see…and sweet-talks me with the myriad ways she falls on things.”

Even the noisiest, the most colossal place of all, and the place of greatest cruelty—the Roman amphitheater—seems to shrink drastically. Augustine knew only too well what a gladiatorial show was like. He described his friend Alypius in Rome “guzzl[ing]…cruelty” as he watched the gladiatorial games. But had the cruel urge to watch gone away? No. No longer does Augustine follow the venationes, the matador-like combats of skilled huntsmen armed with pikes and nets against lithe and savage beasts that had replaced gladiatorial shows all over Africa:

[But] what about the frequent times when I’m sitting at home, and a lizard catching flies, or a spider entwining in her net the flies falling into it, engrosses me? Just because these are tiny animals doesn’t mean that the same predation isn’t going on within me, does it?

For Augustine, this is no idle lapse of attention. It is a realization of continued urges that is as disturbing as the thin voice of a ghost in a lonely room: “You see, I am still here.”

But despite the eerie hiss of sin, Augustine also remembers that he had tasted a little of the sweetness of God:

And sometimes you allow me to enter into an emotion deep inside that’s most unusual, to the point of a mysterious sweetness, and if this is made whole in me, it will be something this life can’t ever be.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Church History, Theology

(Economist) Today’s historians have a higher opinion of Ulysses S. Grant

Ron Chernow’s 1,100-page biography may crown Grant’s restoration. The author of defining books on George Washington and Alexander Hamilton—the latter formed the basis for a hit Broadway musical, after Lin-Manuel Miranda read it on holiday—Mr Chernow argues persuasively that Grant has been badly misunderstood. The corruption in his administration never touched him—the soul of integrity—personally. Sometimes portrayed as an ignorant drunk, he was in fact a profound thinker with a sensitivity to suffering that underlay his kindness to vanquished armies and people of other races. His bibulous reputation was exaggerated by his opponents, Mr Chernow believes, and indeed with discipline and the support of his beloved wife, he abstained from drinking almost fully during his presidency.

Grant may have been America’s most improbable president. His early military career showed flashes of brilliance before he resigned from a post in California amid accusations, almost certainly justified, of drunkenness. He then failed at various business ventures, a lifelong tendency that accompanied a penchant for trusting swindlers. Not long before the civil war he was virtually broke, walking the streets of St Louis in shabby clothing selling firewood.

War brought salvation. The Union army was afflicted with generals who hesitated to engage, or failed to follow up victories by chasing vulnerable opponents. Not Grant. “I can’t spare this man; he fights,” Lincoln supposedly said of him, a year before the general engineered a landmark victory at Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863. Robert E. Lee, his chief opponent, concurred: “He is not a retreating man.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Books, History, Military / Armed Forces, Office of the President, Politics in General

(BBC) Tyndale Bible to go on display at St Paul’s Cathedral

One of three Tyndale Bibles in existence is to go on display at St Paul’s Cathedral to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

watch it all (about 50 seconds).

Posted in Books, Church History, Theology: Scripture

(NYTBR) Marilynne Robinson reviews Stephen Greenblatt’s new book ‘The Rise And Fall Of Adam And Eve’

Stephen Greenblatt follows Adam and Eve through a long arc of Western history. He begins at the beginning, with paleoanthropology, then moves on to the Babylonian epics, which influenced the early chapters of Genesis, and on to a sketch of the life of St. Augustine. From there, he arrives at the Renaissance and its depictions of the first and perfect man and woman, then Milton, of course, the age of discovery and the rationalist rejection of Adamic creation, which was a rejection as well of the belief that, as St. Augustine said, “God willed to create all men out of one, in order that they might be held in their society not only by likeness of kind, but also by bond of kindred.” Europeans found that the great world teemed with people toward whom they felt little likeness and less kindred. Then Darwin emerged, upending everything all over again. And Greenblatt finally lands in his last pages at a fairly disheartening account of mating among the chimpanzees. This is the march of progress, tinged with melancholy, as always.

There is, however, a complicating factor here, having to do with the question of truth. Greenblatt, an English professor at Harvard University and author of the National Book Award-winning “The Swerve,” frames his inquiry in terms of truth or fiction. For him truth means plausibility, and by that measure the story of Adam and Eve is no more than a miracle of storytelling. But science tells us that Homo sapiens does indeed roughly share a single lineage, in some sense a common origin, just as ancient Genesis says it does. In the Hebrew Bible the word adam often means all humankind, mortals. Greenblatt never seems to consider why the myth might have felt so true to those who found their religious and humanist values affirmed by it — and their own deepest intuitions, which science has partly borne out. It is interesting that those who claim to defend the creation narrative from rationalist critiques ignore the fact that its deepest moral implications, a profound human bond and likeness, have been scientifically demonstrated.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Religion & Culture, Theology: Scripture