Book Review

The Virgin Birth of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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

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.

Carpe Diem Redeemed

Carpe Diem Redeemed: Seizing the Day, Discerning the Times, by Os Guinness ★★★★★

Many people attempt to present themselves as the pundits of the times, a person with a deep insight into “what’s really going on” and how to assess the ebb and flow of our culture. Os is one of those few people that I look up to in this regard. I first read his Dust of Death in the mid-seventies while in college; this book served, along with the books of Francis Schaeffer and other L’Abri authors, as a bulwark against a militantly liberal university system. Now as I edge toward the end of life, Guinness still stays contemporary in his analysis of social philosophy.

Time. Mick Jagger noted that time was on his side. But, is it really? I fear that time is running out for Mick. What is time? How do you quantify it? How do you assure that time does not have giant gaps or pauses which go unnoticed by the time-constrained observer? Paul Helm provides probably the best insights into an Augustinian-Reformed perspective on the nature of time. How does one reconcile an infinite being that exists outside of time and yet interacts with creatures and creation in time? Paul Helm, in his magisterial text Eternal God suggests a philosophical conclusion and shows how his conclusions give answers to the great dilemmas about God, such as his omniscience (of the past, present, and future), omnipresence, and omnipotence. I have also delved into treatises on the philosophy of time from a physics perspective. Unfortunately, the physicist has a mind that is constrained to think in space & time terms, which is a construct of our minds. To ask a physicist, philosopher, or anybody to truly delve into a precise scientific definition of time is like asking a fish to describe water; he can’t, since that is his world.

Carpe Diem Redeemed is a little book, only 139 pages. It is a gem from start to finish. After giving a brief description as to how our culture thinks of time, Guinness delves into the three ways that time is considered, cyclical, linear, or covenantal-linear. The Judeo-Christian mindset does not view the world as a relentless, repeating flow of years, nor as a simple linear, non-objective, non-controlled, non-teleologic fate for mankind. Rather, in the covenantal view, God is the God of time. If one has watched the Dr. Who television series, Dr. Who is the Time Lord. Compared to Scripture, he is a pitiful time Lord, still subject to time’s vagarities. The true Time Lord, the triune Jehovah God, not only controls time and moves back and forth through time, but creates time, yet always lives outside of time (see again Paul Helm). From that philosophical perspective, the cyclical and linear perspectives leave the creature caught within time without a purpose, a telos, or hope. Yet, as Guinness explains, the Christian doesn’t often live as a covenantal-linear creature. We wash in the philosophy of contemporary thinking and then find trouble in the reconciliation with Scriptural claims.

I won’t labor through the remainder of this book since it is a book that should, perhaps must, be read. Guinness describes how western culture has become obsessed with time. We are slaves of the clock and have a hard time thinking outside of the constraints of the tiny device most people wear on their wrist. Our culture identifies with time values; “Old is mold; new is true” is essentially the implications of the progressive movement. Yet the implications that newer “things” are always more correct than older “things” is a dangerous presumption. Generationalism has been a highly destructive mode of thinking. Historically, a “generation” used to refer to all people living at a given point in time, such as the 1550s; now it refers to people born within a certain segment of time, such as the greatest generation, or the baby boomers, or generation X.

Guinness offers reflections as to how to start thinking again with time in a Biblical fashion. He offers a warm personal perspective, reflecting on growing up in China. In being personal, Os offers a challenge to the reader to seize the day in a Christian/Biblical fashion. This is a book that is very much worth reading by the Christian who wishes to see how the secular culture has influenced our perspective on time as well as offering a Biblical means of thinking as a Christian.

Darwin Day in America

Darwin Day in America: How politics and culture have bee dehumanized in the name of science, by John G. West ★★★★★

Many books have been written regarding problems with the theory of evolution. Darwinism or neo-Darwinism, as the leading construct of evolutionary theory, has both its fierce supporters as well as opponents. Few topics have the capability of generating heated conversations and turning friends into fiends. Few people ever ask the “So what?” question. How does Darwinistic thinking affect the man on the street? Isn’t Darwinism an ambivalent or neutral belief? How does Darwinism affect the price of gold? Or what do I do once I wake up in the morning? It seems like whether or not you believe in evolution as a random impersonal process makes no difference in the grand scheme of things. Yet, the perceptive insights provided by Dr. West demolish the neutrality of this issue. In a nearly encyclopedic manner, John West proceeds to provide the numerous areas in the public square where Darwinism has had a distinctively destructive effect on our society. West provides a plethora of examples in each chapter of how Darwinism has affected the courts, the schools, the medical establishment, the conduct of the scientific community, and even the man-on-the-street. Darwinism is a Weltanschauung at war with the Judeo-Christian/theistic system that founded western civilization and the basis for scientific inquiry. Many of West’s examples were heretofore unheard of by me. This is news that doesn’t make the “news”. In a skillful and scholarly fashion, West unearths the contest between faith and “science”, while providing references for any claims that he has made. The book is divided into various sections, with each section oriented around a specific theme. I’ll be brief in the detailed review.

I took a psychology class while in college and wrote a 15-20 page book review and rebuttal of BF Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity. I got an “A” on that paper, and still have it in my files. This was back in the time when colleges (I attended the hyper-liberal Portland State University) still had free speech. On a recent review of this paper, I noted that I had used the nothing-buttery argument, and could not remember where I picked up that phrase since I did not reference my paper. It was thus with great surprise that I noted the title of the first chapter of Darwin Day contained the words “nothing-buttery”. Thankfully, Dr. West referenced the book which was by the same author where I gleaned this phrase and had read it first between high school and college, A Clockwork Image: A Christian Perspective on Science, by Donald MacKay. MacKay’s, as well as West’s argument, is when a “scientist” makes the preposterous (and impossible to prove) claim that the world is nothing but what we can detect and observe by science. Truly, it is science-of-the-gaps thinking which forces a pseudo-science explanation to the entirety of the world. So much of what we see and know is unprovable and so much more is simply unknowable, yet they are using science to fill in our vast ignorance of the gaps in our knowledge. Out of this nothing-buttery, scientific materialism emerged the Darwinistic Weltanschauung that is currently deconstructing our society. West, in a subsequent chapter, gives a brief summary of the rise of Darwinism in the world which is instructive, and not exactly matching what one would find in biology class at government schools.

In the next section, West addresses the issue of the courts and crime and punishment. When Dostoevsky wrote his masterpiece Crime and Punishment, there was still a Christian Weltanschauung, and he knew that his readership would comprehend the sense of guilt after committing a crime. This book probably would not pass the muster if written in today’s world, though Woody Allen’s film Crimes and Misdemeanors in the 1980s played on the residual Judeo-Christian worldview found in the society of 30 plus years ago. Through a number of examples, West shows how the Darwinian mindset removes responsibility for a crime, or turns it into nothing more than a mental illness. Rather than punishment or restitution, rehabilitation becomes the prevailing theme. Though “science” is claimed as the guiding beacon for the new management of criminal offenses, it strains the imagination to see how the absence of justice and recidivism supports a scientific approach. Yet, “science” prevails since it best fits the Darwinian paradigm for criminal management.

Wealth and poverty are next discussed on our journey through the dismal night of Darwinian conceptions; this section grasps at the work of big finance, eugenics (and though only indirectly mentioned, critical race theory) as resulting from utopianism, the world of advertising, architecture and the building of tomorrow’s world, all of the above are heavily affected by a materialistic world view born and bred from the Darwin mother. Multiple examples of precisely how Darwinism affects things as remotely as the design of a building or the focus of an advertisement are given by West. I believe that he succeeds in his argument.

The section on how Darwinism has affected education is fascinating. The establishment does NOT wish that you know how campus free speech has been stifled, and this is especially true of teaching students to grasp the controversy that still exists in Darwinian theory. Though it is a theory as leaky as a colander, educators feel that to suggest problems with the theory would be troubling to young minds, who would perhaps even dare consider an intelligent design alternative! How horrid that could be!!!!! Sex education and the new thinking on sex, including alternative sex forms, homosexuality, bestiality, transgenderism, pedophilia, and whatever sexual deviancy under the sun exists, is permissible, should we be in reality functional blobs generated by a few accidents in the primordial slime.

West then enters a section near and dear to my heart, having had to deal with it on a continuous basis, which entails matters of life and death. This issue involves not only abortion and pre-birth issues, but also euthanasia, various forms of assisted suicide, and every moment in between birth and death. As a surgical oncologist, I was surrounded by the possibility of death on a daily basis. Death will eventually happen to everyone, and the prolongation of the dying process can be as ethically evil as the acceleration of the dying process. As a physician, it was easy for me to identify those colleagues who had a low view of human life, with their callous disregard for the patient as a person. In the academic setting, the unnecessary prolongation of life in order to support the effectiveness of an experimental treatment plan, or perhaps in order to improve hospital statistics, or to increase federal reimbursements, was the norm and not an exception. But, this is a book review, so I will climb off of my soapbox. First, I’ll talk about abortion.

It seems bewildering that there would be perplexity as to when life begins. Such perplexity would not exist if it were the breeding of a racehorse or in the gestation of an endangered species embryo. So, what’s the trouble with the human embryo? There is trouble only when a superseding ideology fogs the cerebral function of the Darwinist. If humans really are the product of some incredulous events occurring in the primordial slime, then I guess it doesn’t matter how we treat each other. Odd that so many Darwinists demean humanity feeling that as humans represent the pinnacle of “evolution”, with the “evolving” of speech, superior intelligence, ingenuity, and creativity, these are all to be trashed in order to spare the lower forms of “evolution”. Stranger is the fact that only humans are sentient and able to appreciate the lower forms of beings that exist on planet earth. Beauty does not exist in the mind of an endangered yellow-legged frog as he glances at a flower-covered meadow, or foliose lichen growing on the side of a tree that overlooks a majestic mountain scene. Dr. West provides multiple examples of how the pundits of this age have excused the slaughter of the unborn, even the point of justifying the slaughter of younger children who have a Leben unlebenswertig secondary to some defect of the child, a defect in the parents, or a defect in the society that surrounds the child.

The chapter on death is a difficult one that I have troubled feelings about. The Shiavo and Cruzan cases are presented with discussion. These are two exceptional cases, both of which were mismanaged (in my estimation), and neither of which should set a precedent for medical ethics. The main point that West is trying to drive home is that the personal worth of the individuals Shiavo and Cruzan were devalued by those who saw that the termination of life was the most viable option for their care. Does this mean that virtually every effort must be extended in order to prolong life? Sadly, that sometimes also becomes the case; I mentioned above that the prolongation of death can be as immoral as the prolongation of life. In addition, the patient quality of life becomes a confounding issue that muddies any discussion. Respect for life remains of utmost consideration. In a world where the survival of the fittest selects out who shall live, the law of the jungle (West’s term) becomes the prevailing issue. Financial, social, personal, and other concerns rise to more value than the person in the medical “dock”.

West offers a succinct and well-written summary conclusion to his thesis, and it would have been the best chapter in his book had he not have added a later addendum. West lapses into a defense of intelligent design, an argument that hardly needs a defense owing to the weakness of all other explanations for our existence, save for perhaps the solipsistic argument.

The afterword, titled “Scientism in the Age of Obama—and Beyond” shows John West as a prophet of things to come. We now see “science” as defending any sort of nonsense and untruth imaginable. In my years as a doctoral student in the cell biology laboratory, I had many lectures on integrity in research. This was because the notable academies of science were finding evidence for a troubling huge instance of fraud in research. This was in the 1980s, and it is assuredly much worse in today’s world. Yet, fraud is a perfect example of Darwinianism in the performance of science. The publish or perish mentality of academics is simply another form of survival of the “fittest”. Before the onset of the Enlightenment, Theology was known as the Queen of the Sciences. Rather than being in competition with science, theology was the foundation for all science. Indeed, science did quite well as long as there was a theological basis for doing science. With theology stripped of its foundation place, we must not be surprised that the house of science is crumbling around us. West wrote this afterword before the advent of the Covid crisis, where “science” is being wistfully tossed about as the defense for any sort of government oppression, and the mega-media complex aggressively strips the population of free speech, all in the name of defending the edicts of those who call themselves scientists. West was able to see all of this coming a few years before it happened. But, prophets most often go without honor, and I don’t expect West to get the acclaim that he deserves. The best that can be done is for you to purchase this book and read it. It should be on the NY Times best-seller list.

My apologies to Dr. West for this book review being as much my personal commentary as being a straightforward review of the book. I’m sorry. Your text generated the vivid activity of my thoughts, and its thought-provoking nature forced for a very slow read. At the beginning of reading this text, my wife and I came down with Covid, which stalled any further reading for over a month. No, we were not hospitalized, but slept for 16-18 hours a day, and lost any resemblance of an appetite. After two weeks of that, we felt better, but I remained somewhat brain-numb for another month, keeping my reading activity at a very low priority. Now that my cognition and senses have returned, my favorite hobby (reading) is also returning slowly to pre-Covid levels. Thankfully, I did not succumb to “science” and still have a pulse and blood pressure with normal respirations and all body functions preserved, and can now boast natural immunity. And Fauci will be going somewhere very south of here; I pray for his soul as well as that of his hench-mate Francis Collins.

How to Exasperate Your Wife

How to Exasperate Your Wife, and Other Short Essays for Men, by Douglas (Gashma) Wilson ★

This is the third or fourth book of Douglas (Gashma) Wilson that I’ve read. None of the previous books deserved more than a single star. This book fits into the single-star category. The reason might be explained in his YouTube persona. I have never met Pope Gashma in real life, but on the YouTube scene, he is presented as a wizened professor who is barraged by questions from a fawning and adulating mass of followers, and his words are spoken as Gospel truth, or, at least as legitimate as the Pope’s words when he speaks ex-cathedra. The questioner, who is usually a relative or close disciple of his, sits obediently in the worship of the sayings of Pope Gashma. I don’t disagree with many things that Gashma may say, but his thought processes and often non-sequetor conclusions drive me nuts. Gashma has been wonderful at standing up against the Woke movement in the church. Yet, he has a very restrictive theology of Reconstruction/Dominion which is inconsistent even among those who advocate strongly for that brand of theology.

This text is intended to be a marriage counsel text. The first half of the book relates to personal relational issues. The second half relates to issues of sexual concern. The first half contains inane, vacuous advice for inter-personal relations in marriage. It doesn’t seem to be helpful beyond that of advice any secular counselor might offer for getting along with another person. The second half mostly deals with men dealing with sexual lust, but doesn’t really give helpful advice, and never is it actually helpful sexual advice. Better to have read Ed Wheat or a number of other Christian sexual advisors than to have read Gashma.

This book was written by a “pastor” who has been in the trade for over 30 years. Thus, you’d expect mature reflections on a deeper conjugal relationship, but instead, you get trite advice and poor attempts to occasionally interject humor. There are no acknowledgments that Gashma has occasionally made serious counseling mistakes (Stitler and Wight are the top examples), yet Gashma never has the humility to admit that oftentimes wedded issues can be quite vexing without good answers and that mistakes will be made. I view the book as perhaps an attempt to gloss over his sometimes distorted paternalism while claiming that he is NOT a macho man, and certainly NOT a producer of toxic masculinity. He is.

There are much better books written from a Biblical perspective on marriage and the marriage relationship. Don’t waste your time on this book.