The Doctrine of the Covenant in Reformed Theology, by Geerhardus Vos ★★★
This book was read by me on a Kindle device. I had read a concise treatise on Covenant Theology by JI Packer, and was hoping that Vos would offer more illumination. Vos actually muddied the waters. The strength of this short volume is how Vos elaborates on the history of Covenant Theology, beginning with Calvin, but focusing on the Heidelburg theologians Ursinus and Olivianus, and then moving on to Coccieus, and others in that time period. He spends much time distinguishing Reformed Theology from Lutheran Theology, suggesting that Lutheran theology starts from man as its foundation and works up, whereas Reformed Theology begins with God and works down. I felt that much of this argument was artificial and that contemporary Lutheran theologians would probably take issue with this. Vos labors much to identify the covenant of works that precedes the covenant of grace; thus, the book’s title should have been “Doctrine of the Covenants…” rather than the singular for covenant. Vos ends with a discussion of how the doctrine of covenants affects the position of paedobaptism.
The historical aspects of the book were interesting. His arguments for covenant theology were poor. His leaning toward supralapsarianism becomes quite plain. His intolerance for theological fine points that vary from his is remarkable. He does not present any Scripture argument for his position; I don’t believe I saw a single quoted Scripture verse. He is replete at quoting the voice of historical theologians, a strange approach for a man steeped in the sola Scriptura tradition.
So, I started reading the book with enthusiasm and ended with disappointment. Vos’s writing style is muddy. Most phrases needed to be re-read, even when he was stating simple theological premises. For this reason, I do not recommend this book to others. I’ve found that reading Vos is ponderous and thus left to theologically constipated folk. I welcome recommendations for a better text on this topic. Perhaps a recent book on the covenants by Michael Horton would be in order?
Churchill’s War, Volume 1, by David Irving, 1987, 666 pages ★★★★★
This book and its subsequent volume 2, published in 2001, hit shock waves around the western world. Churchill, who, in his own words, “saved” Christian civilization, is analyzed by the author by means of consulting those who were near and dear to him, and by an exhaustive investigation of whatever personal and war records remained. Oddly, many records were destroyed after the war, probably because the Brits knew that the evidence would not be kind to them in supporting their pre-war and war actions. The existing records do not portray Churchill as the noble, selfless hero who through brilliance and fearless devotion to the British Empire gave his all to the cause. In exposing the “real” Winston Churchill, author Irving was not acting unfairly or acting out of revenge; Irving wrote a similar book titled “Hitler’s War” which was equally harsh to Churchill’s arch-enemy. Controversy will rage and many will still esteem Churchill as being the greatest statesman of the century, facts be damned. Perhaps Irving was a little off-sided in his commentary on this man, so we will let Churchill have the last word on himself. Late in 1940, Churchill went down to Dover to be entertained by the bombers flying overhead, gleeful that he had finally gotten Hitler to start bombing civilian targets (Churchill first started by bombing civilian Berlin), hoping that it would get American sympathy and their involvement in the war. Without regard to his personal safety, Churchill commented at that time “Perhaps tonight I shall be in Hell…” Churchill was off by a few years, but the statement reflects a rare instance when Churchill the inveterate liar actually seemed to be speaking the truth. If Dante were to write an update to his Inferno, the amended version would surely include Hitler and Churchill being forced to spend eternity with each other in one of the lower rungs of hell, next to Attila the Hun.
Volume 1 covers up to mid-1941, but gives a very brief account of Churchill’s early life. The focus of the text was the era between 1939 to 1941. Churchill was raised in the aristocracy with a silver spoon. Though performing somewhat mediocre in school, he excelled in the English language. He ended up as a reporter in the Boer War and was briefly captured by the enemy before escaping. Churchill’s interest in politics and war grew. During the Great War (WW1), Churchill is best known for the Gallipoli affair, a massive military blunder in Turkey leading to a great loss of British lives and materiel. This did not affect Churchill the least, and his efforts in politics remained steadfast. Churchill did have the penchant for switching sides, flip-flopping between the conservatives and liberals, siding for whatever would serve his best advantage. Though a highly effective and persuasive orator, he fell out of favor among peers in the political realm. Many lean years followed (during the 1920s and 1930s) where Churchill desperately tried to re-establish himself in politics. He lived a life of most elaborate existence at Chartwell, with multiple servants and great expenditure. His main income was through book publishing, which did not provide cash flow commensurate with his profligate lifestyle. He married an American wife and had three children, the oldest, Randolf, ended up costing Churchill dearly in the financial realm as a compulsive gambler, and he never supporting the “Churchill” political cause with consistency. Wealthy benefactors needed to occasionally bail Churchill out of crisis economic events. Churchill was a massive cigar smoker, exceeded only by his drinking habit, and all his most intimate friends knew him to be an incorrigible alcoholic who could not survive without the bottle, with brief moments of sobriety finding Churchill at his worst. Churchill rarely held the pen; almost all of his writing was while he was lying in bed with his housecoat, dictating to his secretary. This is true even of his massive multi-volume History of the English Speaking Peoples as well as the other multi-volume sets that he “wrote”.
Chamberlain was Churchill’s enemy in the British system, and as prime minister, Chamberlain behaved with the desire to keep England out of unnecessary wars. Much to the chagrin of Churchill, any effort for a benevolent solution to the “Hitler problem” was a symbol of appeasement and not strength. The empire must be preserved at all costs, and any competition for world domination was considered an affront to the British empire. Hitler had no grievance with Great Britain and no desire to be militarily involved against the Brits. Throughout the book, multiple attempts by Germany to cease and desist fighting each other and have Churchill stay out of Hitler’s affairs were clear. Churchill had no problems with other nations (Russia and Japan) engaging in power-plays; it was clear through Churchill’s writings and actions that he harbored a personal vendetta against Germany, and come hell or high water, at an enormous loss of British lives, and destroying the British Empire and bankrupting the British Empire, Churchill was going to persist. Almost sounds like Hitler, doesn’t it? Churchill made desperate attempts to return as a member of parliament to no avail as he had too many enemies, and England wasn’t interested in another war. Even with German (and Russian) invasion into Poland and declaration of war, Chamberlain remained prime minister. Without dealing a blow-by-blow account of this history, eventually, Churchill was able to oust Chamberlain and establish himself as PM. Churchill realized that Great Britain was not ready for another war, and needed to stimulate public interest into fighting the “Hun”. This demanded one of Churchill’s greatest skills, the ability to be a pathological liar. Lying to the public about the threat of Germany (even when he knew there was none), lying to Parliament, and lying to his hopeful allies like the USA, Churchill hoped to drum up the war cause. I didn’t realize this, but one of Churchill’s three greatest speeches, often quoted, “their finest hour”, occurred long before England had ever been attacked.
Churchill made a colossal blunder at Dunkirk by overestimating the capabilities of the French army, and when begged and pleaded for help from France while the German attack was faltering, Churchill refused air support and refused the deployment of troops, instructing the troops instead to run. They did so at the mess that is called Dunkirk. Thus, the “finest hour” speech was everything but England’s finest hour.
Germany was receiving iron and steel from Scandanavia. The Germans intercepted radio signals that showed that Churchill was going to invade neutral Norway in order to stop iron supplies to Germany, and so Germany wisely preempted their strike. There were a few battles on the Norwegian coast; Churchill had several Norwegian towns bombed, but ultimately had to withdraw in shame from Norway. The propaganda arm of Churchill kicked into motion, blaming Germany for invading neutral Norway, something to which Churchill wished the Brits could have beat the Germans.
Repeatedly, Churchill’s poorly made decisions and rash pronouncements should have brought him down and removed as PM; yet, his slithering tongue held him in power. Germany began to bomb strategic military targets on the English mainland. Churchill desperately tried in vain to lure Hitler into bombing civilian centers. Churchill knew from decoded Enigma signals that Hitler had absolutely no intention of bombing civilian targets, though Churchill’s public speeches were at odds with what he knew to be true. Churchill had hoped that the bombing of civilian London would bring the USA into the war, so desperately hoped that he could ultimately lure Hitler into bombing the civilian centers. Ultimately, one misguided German bomber accidentally dropped some bombs on some civilian houses, killing nobody, but serving as a justification for British reprisal. Churchill immediately ordered a fleet of bombers to hit civilian Berlin. Repeated civilian bombings of Berlin ultimately persuaded Hitler to start bombing London. This WAS Churchill’s finest hour, the joy of seeing London bombed, hoping that it would bring the USA into the war. As an aside, an example might be used to illustrate Churchill’s character, as seen in the war up until now. Imagine being in the deep south many moons ago, when the Ku Klux Klan were active. A group of KKK members come upon a n***er (dark skinned man of African origin) who is minding his own business, and wishes no contention. The KKK members begin to irritate, poke and prod, and ultimately come near to threatening the life of the poor n***er. The black man, in defense, suddenly fights back in defense, which then gives the KKK the justification for inflicting mortal harm on an innocent soul. (These events happened frequently in the south!) Churchill was that KKK man, relentlessly irritating Hitler until Hitler had no choice but to respond in defense. To think of Churchill as representing the paragon of Christian virtue turns the devil into a saint. Blessed are the peacemakers…
British losses at sea, in Greece, at Crete, and in North Africa were devastating to their economy. A fool-hearted invasion of Vichy France in Syria and Iraq led to no military advantage or great victory. The United Kingdom was bankrupt, thanks to Churchill’s war. Hitler continued to offer Britain reasonable terms, and Churchill aggressively made sure that peace offers from Germany were not known to the public. The entirety of British gold was in US hands, and Churchill sought to bargain off British islands in the Caribbean to the USA, something that Roosevelt had enough sense not to bite at. Ultimately, the USA conceded to a land-lease arrangement to Britain, though this came short of Churchill’s intention of luring the USA into the war.
An interesting aside is noted. In mid-1941, Rudolf Hess, a leading Nazi, flew a plane into England with the offer to help negotiate a peace settlement, as he was opposed to Nazi foreign aggression. Hess was held in prison, and remained there the rest of his life, dying in 1987. Much of his life was in solitary confinement. Most of his writings, memos and messages have either not been released yet to the public, or else destroyed. Sounds like GB was trying to hide something there!
The book ends with the beginning of Operation Barbarossa by Hitler, leaving more of the story to be told in volume 2.
There are great lessons to learn from this book. Government rarely ever tells the truth, and when they are the most desperate, they are probably lying the most. This book documented Churchill’s lies and deceptions on nearly every page. A slick-tongued orator like Churchill (or Hitler) should be most greatly feared. The deep state has had a long existence and knows no country boundaries. It is said that the first casualty of war is truth; this book makes it clear that this statement is simply not true, as truth dies long before the fighting ever begins; lies serve as the stimulus for an otherwise pacifist public to offer up life and limb for the cause. We knew that this was true in the Great War, when British propaganda spoke of the mindless Hun raping women and slaughtering children, exactly what was NOT happening. Present events bear witness to the “Churchill phenomenon” in Ukraine, where most of the information that we are given is highly suspect, yet leads to countless billions of dollars flowing into a needless war against a hypothetical barbarian foe (Russia). Peter, Paul and Mary were completely correct when they sang “when will they ever learn?”.
This book had the quality of generating a profuse flow of questions and reflections on how we are experiencing deja vu all over again and again and again. Politics doesn’t change, save to exceed in the corruption of preceding generations. I am left in complete bewilderment as to why people on the right adore Churchill (see for example the Hillsdale College website, where they are offering a complete lecture series on this “great” man. The link is https://online.hillsdale.edu/landing/winston-churchill-and-statesmanship I have serious disagreement with every one of their six main points as to why one should study Churchill). The blindness of the hard political right explains why the UCSA (United Communist States of Amurika) is in our current mess. Peter, Paul and Mary…! On to volume 2…
This review addresses a collection of five books written by Michael Denton for the Discovery Institute, addressing the theme of the wonders of creation. It probably should have been titled “The Privileged World series”, but that is not for me to claim. I have read these texts on my Kindle or iPhone. I presume that there is some intended sequence for reading these books, but I’m not sure what it is, so will choose my own order as I read through them. I will offer a summary at the end of the five reviews.
Fire-Maker: How Humans Were Designed to Harness Fire and Transform Our Planet, by Michael Denton ★★★★★
The subtitle of this short work does not do justice to the content of this book. It is a marvelous text, discussing many issues regarding fire that I had never ever contemplated. Regarding humans, if we were much smaller, we would not have had the capacity to handle fire. If we didn’t have human hands with opposable thumbs, the dexterity to start a fire would have never occurred. If we were too large, other issues arise, including physiological issues of human mass preventing us to be able to stand erect as bipeds.
The physics of this world is actually a more interesting story. The nature of water is vital in being able to allow trees to develop and grow. Wood in its various forms is essentially the fuel that is used for starting and maintaining fires. Progress in working with wood and charcoal allowed for hotter fires, first in order to kiln ceramic pots, and then to be able to work with metals. The atmosphere must not contain too much oxygen or too little. Too large of a planet or too small of a planet would have been unsuitable to maintain a fire-safe atmosphere. Oxygen is a fairly stable molecule, allowing for its safe use in forming fires. Wood is also very stable, as witnessed by the challenge of getting campfire wood hot enough to produce the fires we love to sit around, warm ourselves, and roast marshmallows on.
The intricacies of our planet that allow such a simple thing as fire to take place and to allow man to control those fires for their own uses is astounding. Denton does a wonderful job at leaving the reader in awe regarding the wonderful creation that God has designed for us.
The Wonder of Water, by Michael Denton ★★★★
This wonderful little tome discusses the nature and properties of water that make it a very special and unique substance. Unlike any other liquid known to man, it possesses very precise qualities, that even if slightly altered, would make life on our planet impossible. Water’s freezing and boiling point, water’s viscosity, water’s reactivity, it’s solubility, it’s transmissibility of light, it’s nature when it freezes and boils, are all properties that make it a very unique fluid, “almost” as though it were specifically designed. We so readily can imagine a complex organism like man, or even a simple bacteria, as being irreducibly complex. Yet, water is also an unimaginatively complex substance that forms the basic substance for life as well as for the modeling of our planet into a habitable orb. Plate tectonics, the oceans, the atmosphere, the physical form of the earth with mountains, plains, polar icecaps, and continual “recycling” of that landscape is all a result of water’s properties. Truly it is a substance that goes unnoticed because of its ubiquitous presence, yet Denton anticipates that we will discover many more properties of water that form its distinctive significance in our universe.
Children of Light: The Astonishing Properties of Sunlight that Make Us Possible, by Michael Denton ★★★★
“And God said ‘Let there be light’, and there was light”. Though some will joke that God spoke Maxwell’s equations, the newer Quantum Electrodynamics still fails at grasping the dual nature of light being both a wave and a particle. Yet, even Richard Feynman would agree that we haven’t really grasped the nature of light and electrodynamics with our inadequate models. Denton explores these thoughts as well as the nature of light. Looking at the entire spectrum of electromagnetic waves, visible light forms only the most minuscule portion of that spectrum. There is no reason why the visible spectrum should predominate in the universe, from the emission of stars to the emissions of man-made light-emitting products. Yet, the visible spectrum is the only portion of the spectrum that could sustain life and allow for all of the natural and biological wonders that we see. Slightly more energetic waves would denature DNA and proteins, and slightly less energetic waves would be insufficient for photosynthesis and being the earth from being nothing but a frozen tundra. Light is so mundane, and yet such a remarkable miracle.
The Miracle of Man: The Fine-Tuning of Nature for Human Existence, by Michael Denton ★★★★
This book seems to be more of a summary of the last three books. It serves as a good summary. While evolutionists seek to determine how the “development” of the species is in adaptation to a very complex universe, Denton takes another approach by looking at the world that species are “adapting” to, and looks at how that universe seems to have intentionally been designed to permit life. This is the anthropocentric nature of the universe, as though the universe and its laws and characteristics of all its elements seem intended to allow life to take place.
This book was an intimate reminder to me of my days in medical school. I recall nearly weekly taking long walks or runs meditating on human anatomy and physiology and being perplexed at how perfect the entire system was designed and assembled. Life, from the smallest cells to the most complex organisms such as man, has such a remarkable intricacy; how reproduction with embryological development is so intriguing as to defy man’s greatest efforts to unlock the mysteries that we observe. Denton marches through many of the systems of the body, the circulatory, the respiratory, the musculoskeletal, and the nervous system, showing that they were all perfectly designed. The size, structure, design, and physiology are just right; i.e., they are just too perfect to have happened by accident. No other possibilities for evolution could have created the same superior function that we see in the observed bodies.
The Miracle of the Cell, by Michael Denton ★★★★
The Miracle of Man addresses the macroscopic wonders of life on earth, especially the life of multicellular organisms. The Miracle of the Cell takes a look at the microscopic and biochemical wonders of the cell. As usual, Denton focuses almost entirely on the biophysical properties of nature, and especially the nature of the elements and simple compounds that allow life to exist. His appreciation as to how organometallic enzymes just seem to find the correct metal atom to accomplish a certain task and none other is greeted by great wonder and suggestion that only intelligent design could possibly accomplish the task. It was a delightful ending to the story of just how privileged we are as a species, and how special it is that the world “seems” to be a perfect fit for life. It is remarkable how alteration of any of the properties of the chemical world we live in, such as a slight lowering of the freezing point of water, a slight shift in the spectrum of light emitted by the sun, a slight alteration in how oxygen absorbs light in the atmosphere, a slight difference in the viscosity of water, and a plethora of other properties of nature, would have made life not only different, but rather, frankly impossible to have occurred. It is a wonderful world that we live in!
There are several reasons why I gave the books in the series only 4 stars. There is excessive repetition in these books, and eventually, Denton might consider publishing them all as a single volume, reducing redundancy in the process. Each individual volume is well contained, yet the books are presented as a series, which I (perhaps wrongly assumed) were intended to be read as a series.
Denton is a physician-scientist, something that I also am. Reading the 5 books was a matter of suffering through the (appropriately) simplified language of how a physician would speak with a patient. For me, it was frustrating. For the non-biologically in-tuned reader, it is most appropriate what he did. Still, there is a lot that I learned from reading these books, and a perspective that was beautifully scripted.
Denton seems very reluctant to come to the conclusion that it must be an infinite-personal God that guided the “creation” of man. His reluctance is puzzling since he cannot account for one of the most intriguing properties of man, that of a conscious, communicable being with a sense of morality, with ingenuity, with those traits that so distinctively separate man from other living creatures. Besides, he is taking a science-of-the-gaps mentality, simply assuming that all it takes is enough time before science will determine the finer points of the development of the universe and life on planet earth. Man, with all his brilliance, has not yet even once competed with random “nature” to produce an enzyme that accomplishes a given task. Take for instance the Grignard reaction, one of the first learned in college organic chemistry; invent an enzyme that can accomplish what the Grignard reaction accomplishes at body temperature in standard organic conditions! There are thousands upon thousands of enzymes, none of which we can develop a better enzyme to do the task. Even in the laboratory, we are dependent upon biologically extracted enzymes to perform our molecular biological feats of wonder. It is easy to snipe that only time and research will be necessary to improve on what we find in nature, yet the absence of even a minor improvement upon nature still awaits us.
Just as a last word, please do not criticize my book reviews, as many of them were written under extreme duress in 110°F weather. If you have any criticisms, I will sic Greta on you!
The Virgin Birth of Christ, by J. Gresham Machen ★★★★★
This book was originally written in 1930, and the version I read was a Baker House reprint (with a different cover from above) from 1965. It remains contemporary and relevant. I enjoyed reading this book, as I deeply appreciate the way in which Dr. Machen thinks and analyzes problems. It is scholarliness that is often missing nowadays in Christian circles. Dr. Machen, who dates from 1881 to 1837, spent a number of years in Germany studying in the schools of higher criticism, and thus became familiar with the work of Harnack, the Tübingen School, and other scholars of the liberal theological tradition, much of which he countermands in this volume. He was particularly troubled by the deep spirituality of those liberal scholars. Yet his ultimate conclusion was that they had abandoned the faith of Christianity. Machen fought the liberalism that was tearing apart the mainstream denominations in the US and Europe, appealing for a return to classical Christianity as it has been passed down through the ages. To be expected, the predominance of the references in this book refers to writings in German, with a few French, Latin and English references also included.
This book really is in two parts. The first is a review and analysis of the virgin birth stories as found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. First, there is a chapter that reviews statements found in the 1st through 3rd century by Christian writers, confirming that the virgin birth stories were not fabricated at a later date in the Christian church. Machen starts with Luke, analyzing first the two hymns in the first chapter of Luke, and showing their consistency with the Jewish culture at the time of Christ. Machen then analyses all of the passages under contention, including the visit of the magi, the two genealogies, areas where it might be contended that there are irreconcilable differences between the Matthew and Luke stories, the impossibility of there being a common source for both birth narratives, and how both narratives are consistent with the secular history of the Palestine region. In so doing, Machen concludes that the virgin birth is truly the only proper reading of the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke. Machen also shows in a vigorous fashion that the virgin birth narratives could NOT have been inserted into the text at a later date.
The second section then addresses the possible origin for the virgin birth narrative if the story is not actually true. Two possibilities exist. The first is Jewish, being formed after the writing of Matthew and Luke in attempt to merge Old Testament prophecies into a New Testament narrative. The exteme unlikeliness of this happening is emphasized. The second possibility is from the secular realm. There are narratives from other religions that suggest a “virgin” birth (eg., the Siddhartha Buddha, or Alexander the Great) or in Greek/Roman mythology, yet a close examination shows that this is nothing of the case with those stories, and very unsimilar to the Scripture virgin birth narratives.
Much of the writing to this point is fairly technical in nature, and not easy to plow through. The final chapter of this book ends with asking why this is such a big deal. Is it really important to believe in the miraculous virgin birth of the Lord Jesus? Machen ends with an unequivocal “yes”.
Machen occasionally mentions an alternative to the miraculous virgin birth that should be mentioned now. There are stories of angels making women pregnant in the literature, and perhaps other means of getting Mary pregnant without sexual intercourse with another male person. This can be found both in ancient literature as well as throughout history since then. The possibility of Mary conceiving via an “alien/angel” interaction has been offered, especially since ancient humanity was quite naive as to the technical possibilities of the present. This is a rather weak argument since ancient civilizations were not as naive as we suppose them to be. The movies “The Gods Must be Crazy I and II” reinforce this notion that “primitive” man would believe almost anything. To suppose that “angels” using advanced technologies incorporated “sinless” DNA into Mary’s ovum has many problems, the greatest being that it reduces “god” (and man!) down to a digital information entity. Surely God (and man) is more than just an information scheme! Surely Mary’s conception did NOT (and could not) require an intermediary in order to serve the Scripture as it is written.
Machen gives much to think about. He was a brilliant mind and capable defender of the faith. This book is a technical volume and not meant to be read by anybody. For those who wish a scholarly defense of the faith, then this book is a must which I highly advise.
Ireland: A Concise History from the Twelfth Century to the Present Day, by Paul Johnson ★★★
I had this book sitting on my shelves for years, and finally got around to reading it. Ireland: the Emerald Island, the land of pots of gold and Leprechauns, of St. Patrick, of fields of green as far as the eye could see. What more could a person want? Truth be told, Ireland has been anything but a land of peace and prosperity. The British originally invaded Ireland in the 12th century and found there to be barbaric, savage conditions among the Irish. Any attempt since then for the Brits to bring law and order and civility to the Island has been thwarted. The Brits certainly were never saints toward their treatment of the native Irish, and many of their decisions only brought increased sorrow to the Irish. But, whether it be by allowing the Irish relative freedom or ruling with an iron fist, peace has been wanting on the Island. Much has been the fault of the Irish; whether it be sectarian or religious issues, the island has been rent with the clash of differing ideologies, whether it be the Protestant vs Catholic clash, or the amount of tolerance for the British ruling their Island, discord among the Irish has always been the prevailing theme. Natural calamities, such as the potato blight, only contributed to the pathetic state of the inhabitants of this island. Ireland has served best at exporting its population to other countries, such as Canada and the United States. Johnson ends the book in the early 1990s (when the book was published) with a glimmer of hope. Sadly, based on Irish history, this glimmer is probably wishful and illusory. I can only hope that Johnson is correct in his optimism.
I’ve read many of Paul Johnson’s books, and have rated them as 4-star and 5-star books. He is an excellent author and historian who can hold your interest. This book assumed better than a cursory knowledge of Ireland, and so a modest amount was missed as to what he was talking about. Johnson, being Catholic, did a fair job of hiding that from the reader; still, it is impossible to have a neutral, unbiased opinion regarding the disaster that we call Ireland. This book is very much worth reading, though I hope that the prospective author is a bit more informed as to the history of Ireland than I was.
Thy Word is Truth: Thought on the Biblical Doctrine of Inspiration, by E.J. Young ★★★★★
This is not a so-called scholarly text. It is a set of 11 short chapters that I presume were originally lectures or sermons that Dr. Young gave regarding the issue of the inspiration of Scripture. In this short book, Young systematically attacks first the old German school of higher Biblical criticism and then segues into an attack on Barth, Brunner, and this school’s newer neo-orthodox position. Scattered throughout, Young constantly reminds us of what the orthodox position was until about 1800.
The fundamental theme is that either the Scriptures are the very words of God or they are not. If they are the words of God, then minor translation errors and minor scribe errors might be present, and translation will yield some differences in the rendering of various passages, especially from the old Testament. Under no circumstance will there be found fatal flaws, though there might be sets of passages that seem to be at odds. These so-called contradicting passages are few, and explanations could be offered that we simply don’t know. The contradicting passages do NOT warrant trashing Scripture or offering an explanation that is anything less than the full inspiration of Scripture.
I’ve always appreciated Dr. Young. I’ve heard a few of his lectures (on audiotape) and read a few of his books. He has stood as a true scholar of Scripture and is unwavering in his defense of the word of God. His arguments against the documentary hypothesis (that the Pentateuch is actually the product of 4-5 authors), as well as the claim that Isaiah is actually the product of 3 authors in differing time periods, still stand as a high point in the defense of the inerrancy of Scripture. You can’t have it two ways. The New Testament attests to the Old Testament. Thus, either Jesus, the apostles, and Paul were wrong, or the higher critics are wrong. It can’t be both ways. I’ll put my vote in for the NT authors as well as the words of God incarnate as found in Jesus Christ.
I had this book on my shelf for about two years before getting around to reading it. It was purchased from Amazon, and the price for a hard-bound edition is now too high to be affordable. It is a gem, and readable by anybody of any educational level. A clear-cut exposition of the inerrancy of Scripture should be read by all mature faithful Christians. Young’s text certainly fills the category of an inerrancy text that could/should be read.
Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West, by Hampton Sides ★★★★
Hampton Sides masterfully assembles a picture of Kit Carson that is worth remembering. This book is the story of the life and times of Kit Carson. Carson was a short, not terribly muscular man, illiterate, yet succeeded in becoming a legend in his time. Many contemporary books about Carson were fiction paintings a super-human person, exactly what he was not. Yet, Kit Carson was a man most deserving of the highest honor. He left home at a young age, not wishing to be bound by an apprenticeship. He became a trapper in the wild west, where he learned various Indian languages as well as French and Spanish. His trapping experience and Indian language fluency allowed Carson to eventually serve as a mountain guide. He was greatly responsible for blazing the Oregon Trail. He also guided military missions in California and was as responsible as anybody in helping California gain freedom from Mexico. Numerous were his touches with death throughout his life. Kit Carson fought tirelessly to defend the Indian from thoughtless military action, though he served as a military guide to put down Indian misdeeds, eventually even acting as an Army colonel to quell Indian rebellions. Sides is fair in his treatment of the Indian nations, neither idolizing them or turning them into heroic innocent savages, nor of picturing them as subhuman beasts. Kit Carson seemed to show better balance than most regarding public policy toward Indian affairs.
This book is a riveting story of Kit Carson, a most amazing person. It is also the story of the US siege and conquering of the Southwest United States. Untold by Sides were the many eventual battles that would be fought to finally subdue the Indian tribes. Carson interacted with many other well-known characters, including Presidents Polk, Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant, as well as Fremont, Kerny, Sheridan and Sherman. He was well known (and often friends) of many of the great Indian chiefs at the time. Based out of his home in Taos, New Mexico, Carson seemed to be called away for duty more often than he was able to stay home. He had eventually fathered six children and adopted Indian kids. Sadly, both his wife and he died within a month apart, leaving penniless orphans to the care of distant relatives. Side stories in this book included glimpses into the Mexican campaigns, the western aspect of the Civil War, the numerous pre-civil-war Indian battles, the American conquest of California, most of Arizona and New Mexico, as well as the numerous attempts to find something useful to do with the land of New Mexico. This book was a delightful reading experience, though the interweaving stories often left the reading to be a little choppy. I’m not sure what Hampton Sides could have done to prevent that. If you hold an interest in American history, then this is a fair, even-handed recounting of the Wild Southwest and Kit Carson.
Theistic Evolution; A Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Critique, Edited by Moreland, Meyer, Shaw, Gauger, and Grudem ★★★★★
This book sat on my shelves for a number of months before I was able to read it, and even then, I interrupted the reading of this book in order to complete other books that needed my attention. It’s a thick text, and cannot be speed-read. Thus, there was a challenge of time in making it through the book while being able to savor its pages. There were many days on the back porch of our house (which was most conducive to reading) that afforded me the luxury of devouring this text.
This text is an expansive though not exhaustive compendium of a current intelligent design response to theistic evolution. There is no major “new” material. The essays represent a collection of some of the best thinking rebutting theistic evolution. Yet, the papers are well organized in order to offer a smooth flow of material for the reader who chooses to read the book from cover to cover. That is what I chose to do. The book, as the title suggests, breaks up the issues into the scientific critique, the philosophical critique, and then the theological critique of theistic evolution. I am not going to explain theistic evolution; if the reader of this book review doesn’t know the basic tenants of theistic evolution, then the best starting point would be to purchase this text and read it.
The scientific critique of theistic evolution is no different than the critique of atheistic evolution. To that end, there are a plethora of texts, including (some of the best texts) written by authors of this section, notably Stephen Meyer, Jonathan Wells, and others. There is no “bad” chapter in this section. There are more recent texts that have been published that would provide better source material for debate. Honestly, speaking as a scientist myself, I find this section personally supererogatory though essential in the public square. It is a bit of wonder that the “theory” of evolution as it is taught could be found so strongly believed by people who consider themselves the cream of human erudition. I would find the origin of life coming from little green men from the planet Xylon more believable than that of Darwin’s ramblings. Chapter 17 by Christopher Shaw “Pressure to Conform Leads to Bias in Science” particularly hit home to me, and was a real gem. One of my professors in graduate school had a sign over his desk that stated “The object of research was to get a grant”. Most laboratories operate to a large degree under that motto, since the cost of doing research is astronomical and it is impossible to have independent laboratories. Either the government or wealthy pharmaceutical firms are funding these ventures. Funding demands compliance with prevailing norms, which is precisely what Shaw is referring to in chapter 17.
The philosophical section is necessary since the philosophy of science itself is at stake. When science has lost its moorings, any craziness could be presented as “gospel” truth, and we are witnessing precisely that fact. This section also shifts toward specifically addressing the issue of theistic evolution. Essentially, science has forced out any explanation of our observable world outside of methodological naturalism, i.e, if you can’t see it, smell it, hear it, feel it, or detect it on some sort of instrument, there is no reason to believe that it is an explanation. Yet, evolution is mostly a retelling of a “historical” event, which by definition falls outside of the realm of science. Collins’ chapter is a gem in detailing how we think about God’s action in the world. This chapter is a brief summary of several books that he has written on the topic (all of which are excellent reading material), helping us to think of God in very active terms in this universe. It is just another way of saying that we are not deistic in our belief in God. It is strange that the theistic evolutionist has God active in the very first stages of the creation of the universe (setting preliminary conditions that necessitate the evolution of man), then disappearing during the development of life as we know it, and finally reemerging as a God that interacts with man; the theistic evolutionist truly has created a god in the image of man. Also worthy of special mention was Colin Reeves’s chapter on the interaction of science with Scripture; salient points about the realms of science and theology were most apropos. Other chapters on the problem (or pseudo-problem) of natural evil, and that of the development of moral conscience, remain issues explained by Scripture but left wanting by the theistic evolutionist. Finally, West removes any doubt that CS Lewis was a theistic evolutionist, as his writings remove any thought that he truly held to a belief in evolution.
The theological critique of theistic evolution should never need to be if the Scriptures were held to be the divinely inspired word of God. The inerrancy of Scripture is fundamental to the Christian faith and especially among those who label themselves evangelical Christians. Yet, we see that evangelicals will sadly call themselves theistic evolutionists. Grudem details twelve Biblical doctrines that are violated with theistic evolution, and Currid (with the Old Testament) and Waters (with the New Testament) quote and expound on the critical Scriptural texts to defend against evolutionary beliefs. I believe their arguments to be sound. Allison then proceeds to show how evolution was addressed in church history; though Allison is a great church historian, this chapter is a touch weak in expressing the diversity of thought in church history. As a simple example, Augustine suggested the possibility of an old-earth style of creation, but this was ignored in Allison’s discussion of Augustine’s thoughts on creation. Finally, a discussion of BB Warfield and his reluctance to accept anything but a most limited definition of evolution was discussed.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is definitely not a book that everybody should read. It is encyclopedic, yet individual topics all deserve more exploration by the interested reader. There are gems scattered throughout this book. It is a book that needed to be written, and for select folk would serve as an aide in knowing how to answer the Christian who claims that evolution as a blind unguided force in the development of man is true.
Within a month, Lord willing, I will be back on the Pacific Crest trail, and crossing Carson Pass in California. Kit Carson, an illiterate mountain man, has many geographical features named after him, including the capital of the state in which I currently live. I will be reading a biography of this most interesting man in the weeks to come, and hopefully have a book review available before I hit the trail. Carson’s biography will also provide me with a little lighter reading material, though it is already generating much intrigue and thought. Until then, до свида́ния!
The Truth in Both Extremes: Paradox in Biblical Revelation, by Robert S. Rayburn★★★★★
This book was read in digital format on my iPad. I did this for two reasons. First, the printed version was considerably more expensive than the digital version. Secondly, the book is very heavily referenced, and the references were quite valuable to read, which was much easier to do in the digital format. Rob Rayburn was my pastor for approximately 25 years, and the book was written in a pastoral format, quite easy to read, as though Dr. Rayburn were speaking directly to you. Rayburn gave a series of 8 sermons in 2001 which were the core of what this book was all about. In those sermons, pastor Rayburn summarized what is contained in this book. This book expands upon his sermons and provides a more systematic approach to the notion of opposing tensions in Scripture that are not intended to be reconciled.
The first two chapters develop the concept of opposing and seemingly contradictory truths presented in Scripture, with no Scriptural mention of how to explain these diametrically opposite truths. As Rayburn notes, he did not invent the notion of doctrinal tensions in Scripture. Giants of the faith, including Augustine, Calvin, many Puritans, Spurgeon, as well as JI Packer develop this notion that complex truths are presented in Scripture, both of which are to be believed, both of which must be held with equal weight, and both must not be attempted to be synthesized into a “new” truth, à la Hegel.
Subsequent chapters each individually cover a specific topic of two truths held in tension. I use the phrase “held in tension” as Rayburn frequently will use that term, though it is a tension that is held only if it really bothers you that a Biblical truth might be presented in two extremes. The first is that of the doctrine of the Trinity, that God is one, yet God is three. It doesn’t seem right, but then, why would we assume that God is ontologically “simple”. (N.B., in a way, God is ontologically simple, but I am not interested in arguing this point at this time). The next chapter discusses how Jesus was both man and God, and not a fused entity (tertium quid), both natures present and distinct, both without suggestion that Jesus was “half-man, half-God”, but instead, fully man and fully God simultaneously. Next, Rayburn attacks the “sticky” dilemma of the sovereignty of God and freedom of man, i.e., man’s full responsibility for sin, yet God foreordains all that would come to pass. In my own humble opinion, for a God that exists outside of time and space, the converse would be more challenging for God to create; man’s full freedom without God’s sovereignty or the very dull and uncreative possibility of God’s sovereignty without man’s freedom. This doctrine shows God to be super-cool!!!!!
Pastor Rayburn then waxes pastoral (what he does best!) in the challenge of man’s assurance of salvation yet the need for attention to carefully walk the Christian life. This segues into the issue of how many people will be saved, few or many? The Scripture rightfully answers “both” without explanation, save for the admonishment to carefully attend to one’s own salvation. Are we saved by faith, or by works? Both. We are saved fully by faith, and fully by works, yet we have no reason to boast. It is God’s work. The Christian response to joyfully accept both polarities is most appropriate. The next chapter addresses two vexing issues. 1. Scripture promises both a life of wealth and blessing, as well as a life of troubles. Seeing both extremes in Christians throughout the ages leaves no doubt that both aspects may be true, and certainly with Job, that both may be true with the same person. 2. Does God answer our prayers? Yes and no. Whatever we ask in His name will be granted to us… or, will it? Scripture partially answers this question, as sometimes we ask selfishly or for evil gain, sometimes our prayers will be granted in the distant future, but often we may not ever realize an answer to our prayer. Yet Rayburn, in his inimical fashion, provides a good argument to continually seek the Lord in prayer, and that we will do.
The chapter on Biblical ethics and the dialectical truths contained therein is a bit problematic, and I find Rayburn’s arguments occasionally to be weak. Suffice it to say that Rayburn quotes (perhaps a touch critically) the ethical writings of John Murray, though I tend to lean in favor of Murray and not Rayburn. Yet, there is much in the Ethics chapter that is not controversial. Proverbs will often present opposing truths and expect a heart of wisdom to know when each truth should appropriately be applied. Issues of dealing with sinners in the church, dealing with the Government, dealing with the ordination of women in the church, and other issues are all discussed and not necessarily controversial. Then, Rob goes on to discuss the issue of lying vs. telling the truth. Should one lie to save a life? Doesn’t the Scripture occasionally advocate lying and show examples of God telling a lie? I tend to lean with Murray on this issue in the way he suggests that certain Biblical historical events are not necessarily normative. I feel that the issue is made problematic in that ethicists will usually present the dilemma as an either-or situation. Conversely, rarely do ethicists ever suggest that there might be a third alternative, and the ethical dilemma is more a fabrication than the way we should be thinking in complex situations. Finally, Dr. Rayburn delves into the sticky issue of unity in the church, while preserving the church from falsehood and heresy. Clearly, this is an issue that demands wisdom from on high, and will not be answered by weighing either unity or division too heavily.
Pastor Rayburn concludes by summarizing the need for the Christian to acknowledge that many of one’s beliefs will be two competitive, dialectical truths, both of which must be assumed to be true and yet both must equally be believed and acted upon by the Christian. To that, I heartily agree. There are just a few points that I wish would have been better developed in the book.
How is a biblical Christian dialectic different from a Hegelian dialectic? Is not a Christian concession that two dialectical truths suggestive that A and non-A are both true caving in to the notion that truth does not or cannot exist? Rayburn perhaps should have committed one chapter to the philosophy of Biblical dialecticism.
What are the boundaries to the dialectical principle? What about applying the dialectical principle to the issue of gender confusion? Could it be okay to say that one is both male and female as a dialectic? What about theological issues? Is Scripture the word of God or the word of man? While we accept the notion that Scripture contains man’s personality, is it possibly a dialectal issue that we can occasionally dismiss, as Karl Barth and others have done? How can the dialectical principle be abused in interpreting Scripture? If the 8th commandment against bearing false witness may be dialectical, what about the other nine commandments? Might there be an occasional reason, out of love, to commit adultery? Might I occasionally bow to other gods to save skin? Perhaps in edition 2 of this book a fuller argument might be presented.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is heavily referenced, and the references were also a delight to read. The book discusses a truth that is often poorly presented to Christians, leading to more confusion than good. It is a book that I would recommend to all Christians. It is not written in an academic style, and thus should be able to be consumed by most intelligent Christian folk.
David Hume: A Skeptic for Conservative Evangelicals, by Robert Case ★★★★★
I was given an autographed copy of this book recently by the author and promptly proceeded to devour it. I was peripherally acquainted with Hume, having encountered him in a 3-term history of philosophy class in college. I don’t recall spending more than a day on Hume as the teacher did not regard the Scottish skeptics in a good light. Cornelius VanTil also spends time with Hume in his history of philosophy lecture series, pointing out how Hume led to the public acceptance of atheism and agnosticism. So, my thinking was that this book was akin to finding a book titled “Adolf Hitler: A Warrior for Pacifist Evangelicals”. Though Hitler was a deeply evil person, one could also find great good that Hitler accomplished. We have our interstate highway system thanks to Adolf. Curiosity mounted high, wondering how Case was going to extract the possibility that Hume offers good advice to conservative Christians. Yet, without performing logical acrobatics, Case accomplishes well his mission. The book is fairly dense to read and so cannot be properly consumed by speed-reading. I was also quite unfamiliar with the realm of political philosophy, which is the bulk of this book. So, the book ended up taking me a while to finish.
Dr. Case is fair with his treatment of Hume and doesn’t attempt to disguise his anti-Christian bias. Case points out how Hume carried the baggage of Scottish Presbyterianism in much of his thinking, though he rejects the notion of a God, which is the basis for Presbyterian thinking. Case first gives a historical context to Hume, then spends several chapters developing Hume’s political philosophy, before bringing in the raison d’être for the book, the good that we can glean from Hume’s politics. Certainly, Hume’s empiricism would not be heavily discussed. Hume spoke much about the necessity of communities and traditions for maintaining a stable society. Most conservatives would agree that the church is the most important of those communities but will forget that other social societies are of great relevance in maintaining our identity. We live in a society that is ever increasingly anti-social, such that even Christians opt strongly at times for “rugged individualism” without being sensitive to the notion of being an active participant in society at large. The tradition of family is emphasized. The need to be a participant in government is also mentioned. The concept of anarcho-capitalism/libertarianism is opposed (though not mentioned by name), which emphasizes personal rights to the exclusion of responsibilities of the individual to behave morally and positively within the culture at large.
This book was a delight to read. Dr. Case makes good points regarding David Hume, though I’m not sure the positive notions of Hume have not been well stated elsewhere by other authors. I would have appreciated a discussion in the book as to how Hume’s thinking led to logical positivism. I would have also appreciated some discussion as to the reaction to Hume’s thinking with the Scottish common-sense realism thinkers associated with Thomas Reid, and which heavily influenced American Presbyterian thinking, most notably with Jonathan Edwards. These are not serious criticisms of the book, which otherwise was very well written. Though one could object to Dr. Case making too much of David Hume’s political philosophy, one cannot object to Case’s skill at generating thoughtful reflection as to what makes for a successful society. Case is a brilliant thinker who is worth taking seriously in all that he writes, and this book is an example from Dr. Case of a worthy tome to devour.