November 2013

Between A Rock and A Hard Place

Between a Rock and a Hard Place, by Mark Hatfield ★★★★★
Mark Hatfield is well-known to me, as he was the two term governor of the state of Oregon, and then long-term senator in Washington, D.C. from Oregon, best known as a Republican who was anti-war, and very out-spoken against the war in Viet Nam. Mark was also very outspoken as a Christian, coming from Baptist roots, and growing up on the Oregon Coast. In WWII, he served in Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and he was among the very first GI’s to hit the Japanese mainland and see the destruction of the two atomic bombs. These war experiences had affected his thinking regarding the nature and toll of war, leading to his Pacifist position. Wikipedia has a fairly even-handed description of his life ( ) including a few episodes later in his life where he possibly succumbed to the siren-call of political power.
This book expresses the agony of many of the decisions that Hatfield had to go through as a governor and then as a senator. He expresses the challenge of not being overwhelmed or tempted by the power-structures of Washington. Hatfield, in speaking once at a Presidential annual prayer breakfast, was reprimanded by his dear friend Billy Graham, only to have Mark remind us that even Billy Graham perhaps compromised his message in order to “buddy-up” with the power-elite in Washington D.C..
This book has both strengths and weaknesses. The strongest point is that Hatfield continually and freely expresses a Christian world view. There isn’t a chapter or page that doesn’t refer to Scripture or the Christian mind-set in his thinking. This book, written in 1976, could never be written today without the widespread public condemnation of the liberals and the press.
It’s weakness is that Mark expresses a naiveté which is a bit inexcusable. Others, such as Francis Schaeffer, have written extensively by the year 1976 when this book was published, and quite heavily on many of the issues that Mark brings up, including war, social concerns, world hunger, the environment, economic wealth distribution, and the like. Schaeffer does a far superior job of arguing a solid case for Christian involvement in all of these areas. Hatfield gets his main orientation rather from Jim Wallis and the Sojournersmind-set, which I fear is more guilt-manipulation (a term used by David Chilton as the title of a book counteracting a Sojourners thinker Ron Sider in a  book titled “Rich Christians in and Age of Hunger”) than truly thinking things out in a Biblical fashion. Hatfield inadvertently acknowledges this in an essay toward the end of the book dealing with world hunger, where he gives a number of action points for dealing with world hunger. I then quote “The final change must come from within our hearts”. Actually, a true Christian response doesn’t make the heart change last but first.
Hatfield gives in royally to confused liberal thinking in many points. He is overwhelmed by Malthusian principles, but then, who wasn’t in 1976? He decries strong central government, but his solutions usually demand an even larger central government. He condemns the United Nations, but simultaneously calls on the UN and similar institutions to solve problems of world hunger, war, over-crowding and poverty. Hatfield definitely flunks in his understanding of economics. Interestingly, he was a friend of Murray Rothbard, and held to many libertarian type economic principles, though this book betrays any form of libertarian thinking or consciousness for fundamental economic principles. As an example, he notes that world hunger is due to poverty, but seems clueless as to the causes of poverty.
The first 9 chapters of this book is a polemic against war, with a few other side issues, such as capital punishment, thrown in on the side. It is also a personal tale of the anguish and agony that Hatfield would go through in attempting to resolve these issues from the stance as a politician. The last chapter in the first part is titled “The purist and the apologist”, where Hatfield  discusses the issues of thinking as a purist through social issues, while simultaneously thinking in a pragmatic fashion for practical solutions of world problems. He admits both sides as partially correct, but tends to create a straw-man of the apologist which he then attacks. The second part of the book, which are the last four chapters, discuss 1) the destruction of war and nuclear weaponry, 2) the meaninglessness and futility of Washington power-structures, 3) the need for a Christian environmental movement, and 4) the approach to world hunger.
This book gets five stars for being unique, in that it is about the only book that I know written by a prominent political official that expresses their heartfelt thinking from a Christian world-view. Even though he gets many things wrong, he also gets many things quite right. He doesn’t give strong arguments for his thesis, which I can easily forgive him for. His identification of the problems in Washington, D.C. have since vastly compounded themselves, and I’m sure Hatfield would be horrified by what is now going on in the national capitol. It is a book to read and weep over. Nearly every legislator, executive branch official, and judge has lost the Christian world-view, and we are only the worse for it. Without God’s grace, we will probably never again see a high political official like Mark Hatfield with a heart for God as well as a strong heart for those he served.

Great Wars and War Leaders

Great Wars & Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal, by Ralph Raico ★★★★
Sunday school is currently covering the issue of Christian involvement and attitudes towards war. I had given away most of my ethics books on war, but the class had resurrected questions in my mind. Several reviews, including this, will be dealing with the issue of war.
Raico comes from a Libertarian perspective, a perspective that I don’t entirely agree with. Yet, I stand strongly behind his stance against war, though not always for precisely the same reasons. This book doesn’t contend directly with the morality of war, but instead simply reviews the wars of the 20th century, including the 1st WW, 2nd WW, and then cold war. He focuses heavily on Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, FDR, and Truman, in all desiring war for the political means of self-promotion. Simultaneously, he more than sufficiently develops the extreme and astronomical hypocrisy of the people mentioned in stating their objections to war while purposely forcing war to become inevitable. Raico spends much time alerting us to the wanton hypocrisy of WWII, with us lambasting Hitler and his murder of innocents, without mentioning that Stalin killed vastly more Christians (for being Christian) than Hitler killed Jews (for being Jewish), that Churchill’s bombers killed unbelieveably more women, children, and civilians than were ever killed by Nazis, and that FDR (and Truman’s) atomic bombs made the petty crimes of the Nazi Nuremberg war criminals appear trivial.
From a Christian perspective, these are legitimate issues that are not addressed by the church, which smugly still believes in American exceptionalism and the impossibility of American erring in foreign policy, especially in establishing America’s interests throughout the world.
Patrick Buchanan does a better job of documenting the Churchillian hypocrisies, but Raico does a superb job of putting things together better, especially in dealing with the decisions of Truman, John Foster Dulles, and the henchmen which, in the name of Christ, repeatedly lied to the public and promoted a war fever—this fever pretended that America was on a Christian Crusade defending the name of Christ, rather than actually defending state interests in banking, oil, and other international commerce.
If we consider the destruction of Germany as evidence on God’s judgement on that nation for abandoning faith in Christ, I fear how much worse will be the lot for both Great Britain and the United States. This is a book worth reading, which I’m sure the neo-conservatives will attack in force. Niall Ferguson (reviewed previously by me) will deny British culpability in the fashion of an ostrich, being so convinced that the (English-speaking) white man’s burden is to save the world by policing and conquering the world, not realizing that salvation is in one person only, who happens to be currently ruling supreme. “He who sits in heaven laughs…” Meanwhile, Churchill and FDR will be occupying space in hell just below Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.
In terms of developing a defined stance against war, I can’t say that I’m strictly a pacifist. I’m strictly pro-life, as defined by Scripture. I will defend life, including if life comes under attack in any form. I will defend the life of both Christian, Buddhist, and Muslim, and even atheist, if there in no justification for termination of their life. Scripture defines when human life can or should be taken, and allows for personal defense. Those who argue a “holy war” perspective, such as Harold Brown fail in argumentative consistency or in providing even one remote historical example. There remains no correspondence between the current conservative American Christian in regard to military stance and Scripture. The strict pacifist also fails at being hypocritical. The Pacifist wishes for police protection, yet would never place themselves in the position of serving as policemen, possibly even killing somebody in the protection of law and order. To them, they fundamentally deny original sin, or the sinfulness of all mankind. They live in a hypocritical fantasy world.
The end of this book was a set of book reviews, which were disorganized, and did not necessarily follow the logical thought process of the book. They would have best been left out, or else summarized for their content distinctive of what was written in the book.
My next read will be Mark Hatfield’s Between a Rock and a Hard Place. I have no idea how Hatfield will develop his ideas, though I had tremendous respect for him as governor and senator for the state of Oregon. Coming soon at a blog site near you…

How to Dethrone the Imperial Judiciary

How to Dethrone the Imperial Judiciary, by Dr. Edwin Vieira Jr. ★★★★★
This book was chosen to be read by me, as it pertained to thoughts I was having about the “mis-balance” of powers that we currently observe in the function of our national government, particularly, that the judiciary has tended to create law, rather than just interpret the law, and to do so outside of the boundaries permitted by the constitution. Vieira, as a constitutional lawyer, develops an argument against our current court system in a manner better thought out than even Andrew Napolitano, who was recently reviewed by me. While Vieira may not be as public of a figure as Vieira, Vieira deserves a much greater audience, and more seriousness gave to his appeal in this book and others that he has published. Napolitano seems to have a strong public forum, since he is functionally a libertarian with leanings toward natural law theory, though he does claim to be a devout Roman Catholic. I have no clue as to Vieira’s religious sentiments or beliefs, but would be forced to identify him as a strictly natural law theorist, in part because he constantly reminds us of the statement in the Declaration of Independence which offers that “the Laws of Nature and [ ] Nature’s God” is the entitlement for their grievance. Vieira, like Napolitano, utilizes much legal jargon, mostly in Latin, but easily defined with the Apple computer dictionary.
The book is divided into two parts, the first being the argument that 6 members of the Supreme Court, Breyer, Ginsberg, Kennedy, O’Connor, Souter, and Stevens committed high crimes and treason, but making a judgment under the veil of constitutional authority while defying the constitution in seeking the authority of European and international law decisions. Specifically, the court case mentioned was Lawrence v. Texas, in which the Supreme Court charge was against a law on the Texas books forbidding homosexual sodomy. Vieira does a masterful piece in demonstrating how the Supreme Court ruling defied the US Constitution and went against all previous court judgments. Vieira shows how permission of international court rulings as a basis for American law has since been frequently used to overturn the very substance of our constitution, and will eventually lead to the death of many of our freedoms.
The second portion of the book is a thoughtful and reasoned consideration of how we should react to this. Vieira discourages adding more laws to the books to strike down the Supreme Court ruling. The constitution already has provisions for dealing with an “imperial” judiciary, and more laws will only lead to the proliferation of even more laws. Rather, Vieira reminds us that in the Marbury v. Madison ruling, the court allowed that they had the ability to strike down unconstitutional laws generated by the legislature, but also opens the door for either the Executive or Legislative branch to do the same with the courts, in that all three branches of government are responsible for upholding the constitution, and no branch has a monopoly on interpretive “rights” to the constitution. The constitution affords the states the ability to object to court rulings, should they deem them to be unconstitutional (state interposition). The constitution also allows for impeachment of court members, and Vieira notes the absence of the Legislature or Executive branch to a renegade Supreme Court as also being negligent of the constitutional duty to uphold the constitution. In his last words, he states that “if the House of Representatives cannot muster sufficient forces to put through even a basically toothless remonstrance to Lawrence, it should consider changing the nation’s emblem from the eagle to the ewe”. True story. Anybody serving in a public capacity, whether it be as a lawyer or judge, serving in public office, or simply acting as a public commentator on political issues, MUST read this book.
Lest I leave the reader of this review with an absence of the humor and color of Vieira’s writings, it becomes sensible to offer a series of his notable quotes from the book. All of the following below are quotes from the book, and will not be referenced.
Whereas, a judicial decision such as Lawrence is “the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture”–and perhaps not even the original product of the Justices themselves, but of their clerks, who come wet behind the ears from the intellectual hothouse of that “law-profession culture,” infected with the latest communicable viruses of “good thinking” in “the culture war”.
If [ ] the Justices can incorporate foreign law–or even intergalactic legal principles drawn from episodes of Star Trek–into the Constitution, [  ] the sources of their inspirations are ultimately beside the point, the inspirations themselves becoming “law” of each case simply perforce of their enunciations.
…the “living Constitution” provides no excuse for promiscuously interpolating foreign law into constitutional interpretation–unless the Preamble can now be read a mandate “to form a more perfect Union [with foreigners], insure [international or global] tranquility, provide for the common defense [of a New World Order], promote the general Welfare [of people throughout the World] and secure the Blessings of Liberty to [a global community, according to foreigner’s ideas of what constitutes Liberty].”
Truth, not power (or worse, the hubris of office), is the touchstone of constitutional jurisprudence.
Besides the logic of the situation, WE THE PEOPLE can imagine hundreds upon hundreds of possible decisions of judges that no one free to leave a lunatic asylum would dare to defend as constitutional…
There are many, many more quotes. Read the book. It’s worth it.

Jerram Barrs on Francis Schaeffer

Jerram Barrs on Francis Schaeffer; Part 1: the Early Years, Part 2: The Later Years ★★★★★
I’ve heard Jerram Barrs speak in the past, and thought that he was a touch boring. Thus, it was with mild trepidation that I approached this lengthy set of 23 and 25 lectures, all of approximately 45 minutes in length. This lecture series was anything but boring, one of the most gripping and fascinating lecture series that I’ve listened to in a long time. Barrs has the wonderful ability to provide an intimate discussion into the person of Francis Schaeffer, having worked with him and in the English L’Abri for many years. Barrs also offers personal life lessons that he learned from Francis Schaeffer, which makes the entire lecture series much more than a dry history of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. I’ve never met Francis Schaeffer, though I have spent time with Edith, having invited her to speak in Tacoma at a Crisis Pregnancy Center Spring Banquet. She was a real inspiration to be able to take around and provide for her care. I understand that Edith passed away a few months ago, making the Francis & Edith Schaeffer legacy now truly historical.
Francis Schaeffer
The first part of this series, The Early Years, is mostly historical, talking about Schaeffer’s early life, and becoming a Christian as a teenager. It speaks of his going to college against his parent’s wishes, and eventually to seminary, first at Westminster Seminary, and later at Faith Seminary when the Orthodox and Bible Presbyterian church split. Indeed, the greatest crisis in Schaeffer’s life occurred over observing the splits that occurred in the Presbyterian church, and Barrs spends much time reflecting on how this shaped the ultimate thinking and philosophy of Francis Schaeffer. The first part ends with a discussion of the structure of L’Abri.
The second part delves much more into the thinking of Francis Schaeffer, with a lot of discussions devoted to Schaeffer resolving issues as to why Christians tend to behave so badly towards each other, as well as why Christians are no longer able to communicate with the world around them. The encouragement is not to escape the culture but to engage the culture, by understanding where the culture is coming from. Culture is best learned, according to Schaeffer, by looking at the arts, including painting, music, theater, and literature.
The only fault that I could find in this series is that the history of the later years of Schaeffer is poorly developed. Little is mentioned about Schaeffer and his development of an international presence, of his children (Frank is barely even mentioned), of his dealings with the presbyterian church in America, of his diagnosis of cancer, move to Rochester, MN, and eventual death. Barrs spends two lectures and occasional snippets in other lectures mentioning criticisms of Schaeffer, but these were the more superficial criticisms, such as those who attacked him for being a Reconstructionist while others attacked him for being a dispensationalist, neither of which is even remotely true, and obvious to anybody that has read Schaeffer. I would have appreciated more discussion of his thinking regarding presuppositional vs. evidential apologetics, which Schaeffer still receives charges about or his stance on co-belligerency.
Schaeffer’s thinking is eminently personal and always causes self-reflection. Jerram Barrs does a particularly exemplary job of bringing Schaeffer’s life and teaching home to an intimate and personal level. The lecture series will not leave one smugly self-satisfied. The series is not only informative but personally convicting, and Jerram Barrs does the series in a manner that approaches Schaeffer as a model of living true to his convictions, but always speaking the truth in love, something that each of us should emulate.

History of the Organ

The History of the Organ, Part 1: It’s Latin Origins, Part 2: From Sweelink to Bach, Part 3: The Golden Age, and Part 4: The Modern Age ★★★★
Only after I purchased each of these separately did I notice that the complete set is now available for a bit cheaper than purchasing each part separately. The production was accomplished by ArtHaus, and utilizes a number of well-known and accomplished organists to demonstrate various historical and modern organs. There is much discussion on the early invention and development of what we know of as the organ, and its evolution and development over time into the modern instrument that we know. The development of organ music was also discussed. There are episodes that spend time in a modern organ building shop, showing how both historical and modern organs are assembled.
Each episode was slightly under one hour, making the set quite pricey for what you get. Topics are treated very superficially. You are never given an in-depth view of the assemblage of any of the organs demonstrated. There are no details as to how organ music has changed over time, or what musically distinguishes one composer from another, other than a brief demonstration of some of their pieces. The technique of playing the organ is only superficially approached in one teaching episode of an accomplished organist with a student.
I enjoyed the series but feel that it could have been much better done. Unfortunately, there isn’t much out there about the prince of all musical instruments, the organ. To that, a better series on the organ is well deserved.

Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide

The Ultimate Hikers Gear Guide, by Andrew Skurka ★★★★★
This book is well written, and well printed, in a style fitting for National Geographic. Skurka is a professional adventurer, and advocates the ultralight technique, having developed a number of devices himself, including an alcohol stove made out of a cat food can. While the book is titled as a gear guide, it is really much more than that. Skurka offers numerous anecdotes of mistakes that he has made, including being horribly mispacked for his first thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail when he was just a kid. The book abounds with advice on making the ultralight hike an enjoyable experience, whether hiking in the rain, desert, or frozen tundra of northern Alaska in winter. Skurka writes well, and the book was a joy to read. In addition, his appetites seem to parallel mine, as he doesn’t call for bizarre recipes for the trail. Rather, his advice on food, as for shelter, clothing, shoes, backpack, and other equipment is very commonsensical and something I would identify as consistent with the way I would tend to do things. This is not a book on the subtle details of backpacking, such as planning a trip, route finding, camp-building, etc. Skurka focuses on the experience of hiking and de-emphasizes the experience of camping. Camping advice will best be found elsewhere.

Ultralight backpacking

Lighten Up! by Don Ladigin ★★★★
Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips, By Mike Clelland ★★★★

These two books are written in a very similar style, with the same illustrator (Mike Clelland). They really should be published together, as they are complementary and fit together. Either book could be read in a single evening. Both books are packed with advice on the reason to ultralight backpack, and how to do it, without endangering your life. The advice contains great common sense that one usually doesn’t think about, and is contrary to what is sold as typical backpacking advice. Not all of the advice is anything that I would follow. Some are a little gross, as advice NOT to take toilet paper, but to use rocks and other implements to wipe yourself. Yuk! I’ll pass. Mike is a vegetarian and gives advice on food that sounds awesomely unappetizing. Other ultralight books do a better job of advising what to eat. All in all, both books were most helpful and will be used for upcoming pack trips in the following years, as well as for bicycle trips.

Democrips and Rebloodlicans

Democrips and Rebloodlicans, by Jesse Ventura ★
This must be one of the worst books I’ve read in a long time. I had hoped that Jesse would have provided a reasoned argument for his thesis, which is that the two political parties are both corrupt and since he’s had problems with a third party, then the elimination of all political parties would best serve America. Instead, Jesse goes on a mindless rap, mostly about the Republican party. The only two books are more worthless than this one were those two written by another politician from his state, Al Franken. Ventura’s absence of balance is quite staggering. While I have no love for the Republican Party, Jesse puts his entire book into detailing the corruption of the Republican party. I’m sorry, but the Republicans have no premium on corruption, and the Democrats make it quite a bit easier to document blatant corruption. The bias in this book is so overwhelming at times to be unnerving. When talking about how Mitt Romney was a member of the renegade Mormon church, and how the Mormon church was a vast conspiracy of evil out to destroy Amerika, he blithely fails to notice that the president of the senate, a democrat, Harry Reid, also is a devout Mormon.
Jesse rants and rages about the morality of the Tea Party, how they are a bunch of moralist Christians corrupting the American society. That Santorum is a member of the Catholic church and lives in the same town as some Opus Dei members insinuates Santorum as a part of the Conspiracy Dark Side. Really. Jesse hates anybody that would admit that they are a Christian but says nothing about those who are devout Muslims, Buddhists, etc. To stand against abortion, or for the ten commandments, means to Jesse that you are forcing your morality on the public. Jesse proudly admits that he believes that “religion is the root of all evil” (page 210). Jesse waxes long and hard about Rushdooney and the Reconstructionists (not realizing that Ron Paul’s first economic advisor was Rushdooney’s son-in-law), even attacking Francis Schaeffer as a moralistic fool. Jesse’s discussion of the history of religion in America leaves something seriously to be desired. I think Jesse held his breath too long underwater as a Seal.
Jesse shows confusion in so many areas. He rages against foreign policy statements made by Pat Buchanan. He strongly supports a serious graduated income tax, with a 95% tax on the super-rich. He devotes an entire chapter on the media bias towards Republicans. Really! Nobody ever told him that 95% of the press overtly admit that they are liberal democrats. He rages against the electoral college, thus manifesting a total cluelessness as to why our government was established with an indirect vote rather than a direct vote of certain people.
Jesse was recently interviewed by Ron Paul on the Ron Paul channel, where Jesse spoke of his favorite topic, that of corruption in government. In this book, Jesse has an entire chapter on his support for Ron Paul. The serious problem I have with Ron Paul is the same serious problem that I have with Jesse. Ron Paul was recently asked if he uses religion as a guide for his decision-making, and he stated adamantly that he does not. So, where do Paul and Ventura get their ethics? Answer: out of thin air. Unfortunately, every other candidate in this last election for president, both Republican and Democrat, were either wantonly corrupt, had horrid economic and foreign policies, or were simply clueless as to anything salient. I guess we are stuck with Oliver Cromwell’s dilemma—when stacking the parliament with Christians, the parliament became entirely inept at running the country. But, advice from Ventura is totally useless. Don’t waste your time reading this book. You’ll regret it if you pick it up.

The School Revolution

The School Revolution, A New Answer for Our Broken Education System, by Ron Paul ★★★★
This book is a lengthy and massive appeal for homeschooling. The arguments presented by Paul are good but could have been better. We live in an age where every parent should now seriously consider removing their children from government schools. Paul suggests that kids learn to be more independent and disciplined and that they tend to transform from needing teachers to self-educating themselves at an earlier age with homeschooling. He spends perhaps too much time stressing education that corrects the mistakes of government school, especially in economics. This list could have been much longer, including literature, and the sciences. Paul makes an appeal for his own homeschool curriculum, which he is currently working on, though he admits that it is geared for only the top 10% of students. In that curriculum, he expects students to be fluent at posting videos on uTube and essays on their personal website—actually not a bad idea. He suggests that the internet can be a valuable source for education in today’s world. I am concerned that the internet provides the same pitfalls as government schools, and must be used judiciously. In summary, this is not a bad book but is a slight bit ideological that homeschooling is a simple answer to government or private schools. Yet, I think that every parent should now seriously weigh the possibility of homeschooling quite seriously.

Bad Religion

Bad Religion, How We Became a Nation of Heretics, by Ross Douthat ★★★★★
Ross Douthat is coming next Saturday to speak at Faith Presbyterian Church (09NOV2013), and so I thought I’d read the book that will be the focus of his visit. Fortunately, this was loaned to me by Dr. King, who happened to have a copy. Though it is a fairly meaty book, I managed to read it in a weekend, allowing me time to cogitate and ruminate on the main points of the book. Oppenheimer has reviewed the text for the NY Times and seems to have missed some of the most salient points of the book,  though he mentions that Ross does an excellent job of attacking both the religious right and religious left in this country. Ross speaks as a Catholic and holds a strong affinity for the traditional Latin Mass and pre-Vatican II liturgy and practice of the church. Douthat’s writing style requires a bit of warm-up, and thus it is hard to connect with the book in the first few chapters. The focus of the book is on Christianity in the USA, and thus Judaism and other religions naturally are not mentioned at all, nor is Christianity in other countries mentioned. Throughout, Ross continually brings in mention of political party involvement in the religious scene, and religion in the public square.
The first four chapters attempt to present the public square of religion in a semi-historical sense, beginning with roughly the turn of the century,  the work of liberal theologians, to the semi-reforming influence of Karl Barth, and with discussions regarding a variety of topics such as the sexual revolution and the crisis of racism. The next chapter (The Locust Years) details the fall of the mainstream denominations, including the Catholic church, into liberalism. The next chapter on accommodation details how Christianity tried to make itself acceptable to the community by accommodating in morality, ethics, and liturgy to a populist approach. This was shown as a  dismal failure. The Resistance chapter then speaks of the response of Christendom, both Catholic, and Protestant, to waning church populations,  and the attempts at rapprochement between Catholics and Protestants.
In part II, titled “The Age of Heresy”,  the chapters range from discussion of the loss in Catholic and Protestant circles of a sense of the text of Scripture, demonstrating both cluelessness as to what Scriptures say (a Glenn Beck illustration is given), and a desire of those like Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels to resurrect “lost” gospels and create an alternative Christianity. Chapter six, “Pray and Grow Rich” focuses mostly on the religious right, and their prosperity gospel or mentality for such, even when (like pastor Rick Warren) they overtly deny a prosperity gospel. Conversely, chapter seven, “The God Within” shows the religious left as forming new spiritualities which abandon all sense of Christian morality, to focus on the inner self, a cross between eastern mysticism and western psychobabble. The final chapter, “A City on a Hill” bounces back to the religious right, with the inclusion of both republican and democratic parties, and attacks the mentality that views the USA as God’s last hope on earth, the sole island of faith in the world, and the sole defender of Christian value, and the exceptionalism of being American.
In a concluding chapter, Douthat gives an all-too-brief summary of a solution, which includes returning to the ancient faith, and developing an improved communication between the Catholic and Protestant conservatives. He discusses the need for Christian culture to re-engage in the arts. He also stresses the importance of being Christian rather than party-affiliated.
I have minor problems with the thesis of Douthat. While I appreciate his perspicuity at identifying the problems of public faith in America, I think that some Calvinist glasses could have given him a better insight into all that has gone wrong. Essentially, we are witnessing a rebellion against God, and re-defining our commitments to other conservative Christians and to the church is only part of the answer. The personal sin of unbelief and repentance from that sin is not mentioned in the book. Return to the idolatries of Catholicism and the counter-idolatries of traditional Protestantism will only deepen our dilemma. His focus is not on truly Biblical solutions, including resolving the economic and social conundrums that bedevil our society. Is there a Christian economy? I tend to agree with Gary North that there is. How do we as Christians publicly deal with the sins of homosexuality, intolerance which comes in the form of political correctness, a court system that is a hotbed of injustice, civil servants and politicians that are corrupt to the bone, wanton greed thrown off as free-market Capitalism, the role of the church vs. the state in providing for the poor, etc., etc., etc.? To those questions, we will never have perfect answers in our lifetime, but perhaps Douthat will address them in future writings.
In terms of a critique of the Protestant church, Douthat is an addendum to Machen, Schaeffer, and David Wells. Francis Schaeffer remains the best voice yet in offering solutions to the hard questions of Christian life in the public square. Douthat excels at giving us a little bigger and better picture of the transmogrifying public religious scene that includes the Roman Catholic presence. Thus, it is very well worth reading.
ADDENDUM: 09NOV2013 I just got back from talking with Ross Douthat and hearing him speak for 1.5 hours at Faith Presbyterian Church about his life and this book. His goals and objectives for writing the book are well accomplished. Douthat is not only articulate and quite brilliant, but very humble, soft-spoken, and caring. It is quite clear that his commitment to the orthodox Christian faith takes first place in his life. He was a joy to listen to, but also quite thought-provoking about how we present ourselves as Christians in the public square.